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

Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General


CHAIR: I ask officers of the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor General to come to the table. You have been waiting very patiently, Mr Brady and co. I appreciate that. I welcome you and the officers. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. If you need assistance the secretariat has copies of the rules. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public justice interest immunity should be raised. The committee has set 11 April 2014 as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. With that, Mr Brady, I will ask if you wish to make an opening statement.

Mr Brady : Thank you, Chair. As senators would be aware, the Governor-General's term now only has five weeks to go. I advise the committee that the Governor-General's term will formally expire with the swearing in of General Cosgrove on the morning of 28 March.

When the Governor-General was sworn into office nearly 5½ years ago she promised to be 'alive, open, responsive and faithful to the contemporary thinking of Australian society'. Four prime-ministerships, four Speakers and a couple of parliaments later, under one governor-generalship, I think she has done just that.

As a recent headline said last week, it has been 'A lesson in dignity and tenacity: Quentin Bryce's extraordinary legacy'. On 5 September 2008 she said, in taking on the role, that she would undertake it 'with solemnity, impartiality, energy and a profound love for the country we share'. That energy has been expressed in a governor-generalship unlike any other—an outreach which has seen her travel to 250 locations in Australia on 520 occasions and where one-third of her time has been spent in rural, regional, remote and Indigenous Australia. In fact, she significantly extended the outreach and visited where no other Governor-General has been: communities in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions, central and western Queensland, central South Australia, King Island, Antarctica and the most remote Torres Strait islands.

The energy she promised has been unrelenting; it has been seven days a week for the whole five and a half years. I mentioned at previous estimates that a quarter of a million Australians had come through her two front doors in Canberra and Sydney, so many of them greeted by her personally—as has been the case with over 70,000 schoolkids who have come to Government House. She has almost doubled the number of patronages undertaken—325—and taken each one and their causes seriously.

But this afternoon I want to say it is so much more than the statistics; it has been the way in which she has interacted with Australians from all walks of life. There have been extensive urban outreach programs in the capital cities to provide support and comfort to the marginalised, the vulnerable, the socially excluded. She has been completely responsive in providing meaningful support to those affected by natural disasters, particularly those badly affected, during her term, by fire and flood. In addition to the almost 1,000 Orders of Australia and bravery awards she has personally presented, it fell to her to present the four Victoria Crosses for Australia, the most recent being last week to the parents of the late Corporal Cameron Baird. As the director of the Hyde Park Anzac memorial in Sydney said after the event, she did it with the most extraordinary dignity.

I want to note this afternoon that the Governor-General was the first Australian senior official to undertake an overnight visit to our troops in Tarin Kot and returned in support of our uniformed men and women on two other occasions. She represented Australia overseas with consummate dignity and intellect in the promotion of our core national values: leading an Indigenous delegation to Canada, becoming the first Governor-General to head a business delegation to promote closer trade and investment relations with the European Union—this was akin to the creative use by some states of their governors—taking prominent Australian women scientists to our expo pavilion in Shanghai, and taking war veterans with her to Hellfire Pass. She undertook the most comprehensive visit to almost all of the island states in the South Pacific in support of Australia's crucial role in the region.

The Governor-General represented Australia at significant military commemorations that included the 90th anniversary of Armistice Day in Verdun, the 95th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings, the reinterment of the unknown soldier in Fromelles, the 65th anniversary of the Sandakan death marches, and the Anzac Day service at Kanchanaburi, and she was the first Australian Governor-General to visit the Long Tan Cross in Ba Ria-Vun Tau province, Vietnam, and of course there were the Anzac Day services in Port Moresby, Isurava and Kokoda.

She undertook her missions abroad at the request of the Australian government. She became the first foreign leader to address the parliament of Timor Leste and Tuvalu, the first Australian to address the Samoan parliament and the first to talk about the problems of domestic violence from the pulpit of the Solomon Islands parliament. Wherever she went, she met with women from politics, civil society and NGOs, and they would talk about issues that affected their lives. As one writer noted last week, the thing about role models is that 'they normalise the unusual'. Catherine Fox wrote:

What she has brought to the role and showcased for Australians is actually a lesson in a different kind of leadership.

Most certainly one of her core areas has been the wellbeing and equity of Australian women and girls. Again, Catherine Fox:

She showed us that having quiet impact, dignity and tenacity is at least as effective as grandstanding. That standing up for women is not about attacking men but making them advocates for change too.

I want to refer to one letter that the Governor-General received in the last fortnight. I think it beautifully captures her term: 'Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do. I can't help feeling that when we look back we will all acknowledge that this was the moment in time when we understood that we all sleep under the same stars, a moment in time where everyone was included, a moment where dignity and respect was and always will be at the heart of change.

In all of the Governor-General's work in Australia and abroad, I am pleased that my office has been able to efficiently and effectively support these huge outcomes against the backdrop of reducing resources and staffing levels. My senior colleagues here today, and those who are in the office, have done a mighty job. Also, our embrace of technology has ensured that two million Australians a month now view the Governor-General's activities and have been able to read her 830 speeches.

I want to pay a particular tribute to Michael Bryce who has unstintingly and with complete devotion to the Governor-General and our nation added his impressive contribution to his own patronages and contributed so much to the success of the Governor-General's term. Finally, the office is now productively and enthusiastically preparing for the arrival of General and Mrs Cosgrove and to ensure that we provide them with the necessary support to undertake their roles.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Brady. We will now move to questions.

Senator WONG: First, Mr Brady, thank you for that contribution, sharing with us some of the activities and responses from Australians to the Governor-General. We obviously extend our thanks and best wishes to her and to Mr Bryce. That is something that certainly the opposition will communicate privately, but I did want to place that on record. I have a few questions. You mentioned the appointment of General Cosgrove. Can you remind me: when the Governor-General's appointment was announced, was that done by a joint press conference with the then Prime Minister or was that simply the Prime Minister making the announcement?

Mr Brady : We think—I will have to double-check—the Prime Minister made the announcement of Ms Bryce's appointment.

Senator WONG: Without her being present?

Mr Brady : I am sorry, Senator—I am told by a colleague who was here on that occasion that it was done jointly.

Senator WONG: Mr Brady, do we anticipate that this is your last estimates round in this position or is that something that is not clear?

Mr Brady : I would rather not speculate.

Senator WONG: There has been some speculation—and I would be quite happy to give you the opportunity to clarify—that you would be appointed to an ambassadorship to Italy, to Rome, but that has now changed. Can you shed any light on that?

Mr Brady : Perhaps I can take some refuge from Francis Urquhart's catchphrase in the House of Cards: you might—

Senator WONG: Is he your role model, Mr Brady?

Mr Brady : No, he is not my role model. You might well think that, but I could not possibly comment.

Senator WONG: I did not.

Mr Brady : That is probably the best thing, without getting me in trouble with the Foreign Minister.

Senator WONG: Have you had a conversation with the foreign minister about this? I am not asking you about the detail—I might ask you that next time—but I am just wondering: have there have been conversations directly with the foreign minister?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, this is about the office of the Governor-General. I do not think it is appropriate to ask the officer about any conversations he has had with the foreign minister about any other appointments or roles.

Senator WONG: There is no area of public expenditure. He was, I am sure, being paid by the taxpayer if he did have such a conversation.

CHAIR: I would ask you to confine your questions to the responsibilities of the office of the Governor-General.

Senator WONG: I am asking him if he has had a conversation with the foreign minister whilst he has been—

CHAIR: And he has given you his answer.

Senator WONG: No, he has not answered the question.

CHAIR: Yes, indeed, he has.

Mr Brady : Senator, I am here in my capacity as official secretary—

Senator WONG: And while you were still official secretary, have you had a conversation with the foreign minister about your future employment?

CHAIR: Mr Brady, you do not have to answer that question.

Mr Brady : Thank you.

Senator WONG: It is on the public record that you were going to go to Rome—perhaps there was even more detail about that—and now you are no longer going there and you may go to Berlin. I am offering you the opportunity to clarify that.

CHAIR: It has no—

Senator WONG: Senator, why are you so sensitive about this?

CHAIR: Because this is about the office of the Governor-General; it is not about foreign affairs. If you have questions in respect of foreign affairs, go to the appropriate committee.

Senator WONG: I will on Thursday, but he is being paid by the taxpayer, so I can probably ask him questions about—

CHAIR: Go and ask it of the appropriate committee. This is a particular responsibility. The officer is here to answer questions about the office that he is representing, not anything else.

Senator WONG: Are you declining to answer the question, Mr Brady?

Mr Brady : No, Senator. I am just saying that, clearly, any appointment is a matter for the government and it is not up to me as an official to pre-empt any appointment.

Senator WONG: Sure, and I am not asking you to; I am just asking whether you have had a conversation with the Foreign Minister about these matters.

Mr Brady : I have.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Can I ask when?

Mr Brady : I would have to check. She has been to Government House a couple of times.

Senator WONG: So, in the context of those visits?

Mr Brady : That is right.

Senator WONG: I had a question about the VC award. What is the usual practice in relation to such announcements?

Mr Brady : Perhaps I will just take you through the mechanics of it.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Mr Brady : After the witness statements have been collected and forwarded to the commanding officer, the commanding officer makes a recommendation to the Chief of Army, in this case. The Chief of Army makes his recommendation to the Chief of the Defence Force, who then makes the recommendation to the Minister for Defence. There is then consultation with the Prime Minister. A letter then goes from the defence minister to the Governor-General with the recommendation, and then that is transmitted by me, under cover of a note, to the Queen's private secretary. The Victoria Cross for Australia is the only award under our system that has Her Majesty's personal agreement. On 17 January this year I conveyed the formal recommendation to London, and on 18 January, in very much a measure of how solid this Victoria Cross was, the Queen came back, through her private secretary, approving Corporal Baird's posthumous VC.

Senator WONG: In terms of the process you outline, generally the 'awarding'—is that the official term?

Mr Brady : Yes.

Senator WONG: Is that usually always done by the Governor-General?

Mr Brady : Not historically. But in recent times the Governor-General has done the investitures. It is very unusual that there was not a VC awarded since Keith Payne's from the Vietnam War. In terms of our own public responses, as an office, we have got the ceremony right. We have had three of them at Government House. We have had Ben Roberts-Smith's in the SAS barracks in Western Australia. This particular one was a mixture of solemnity and obvious recognition of Corporal Baird's outstanding bravery.

Senator WONG: My recollection of the other award ceremonies to which you refer is that the announcement was made on the day of the ceremony itself. Is that right?

Mr Brady : That is right, Senator. With this one I think there was a strong sense—I must say, this was the proposition that I advanced—that, as a posthumous award, it needed to be done differently. It was good for the family. I had spoken to the family. I had gone up to Burleigh Heads, where the family live.

Senator WONG: So it was something that was discussed with them.

Mr Brady : It was discussed, and splitting the announcement from the ceremony was a good way of dealing with the family's obvious pain and grief. It would not have been appropriate to have the announcement contiguous with the ceremony, under the circumstances.

Senator WONG: I see. So this was particular to this?

Mr Brady : This was particular to this.

Senator WONG: I will move on from that, unless you want to add anything else. If not, have you or your office met with the Commission of Audit?

Mr Brady : No, I have not, and I do not think we have been contacted.

Senator WONG: Right. Have you been asked to provide any information or have you provided any submissions?

Mr Brady : We have provided no submission and we have not been asked to.

Senator WONG: Have there been any changes to the FTEs, actual and headcount, since the last estimates?

Mr Fraser : The current actual average staffing level is 95, with a full-time equivalent of 78.7.

Senator WONG: So that is a reduction?

Mr Fraser : It is.

Senator WONG: Do you want to share with us why?

Mr Fraser : Whenever any position falls vacant, someone moves on or is promoted to another opportunity, we always review the position and determine whether we fill it. In recent times, we have been conscious of a new Governor-General on the horizon and so we have sought to keep a number of positions vacant, pending the new arrangements.

Senator WONG: Sure. I understand that, in fact, the announcement of the current Governor-General was not a joint announcement, so you might want to just check that.

Mr Brady : That would be a matter for PM&C. Are you referring to Ms Bryce?

Senator WONG: Yes. Well, she is still current, isn't she!

Mr Brady : Yes—sorry! She did not participate in the announcement but she was here in Canberra for the media when the announcement was made.

Senator WONG: Sure, but she did not participate in a joint press conference.

Mr Brady : No, she did not.

Senator WONG: Do you recall any previous Governor-General participating in a joint press conference with the Prime Minister?

Mr Brady : I would have to check.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator SMITH: I would like to go back to the high-spirited reflections and keep with that tone, and talk about the forthcoming royal visit. Mr Brady, I am hoping you might be able to update us on where the arrangements are at for the visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and whether you can confirm that young Prince George will be accompanying them.

Mr Brady : I would be wary of announcing anything, Senator!

Senator SMITH: I would be, if I were in your position!

Mr Brady : I think I will leave it to Kensington Palace to make the announcement and to inform the public who comprises the royal party. What I can say is that we have had a very successful reconnaissance led by the Duke and Duchess's private secretaries and we are looking forward to the visit. It is an extensive visit, my office will be very involved and we will ensure that the Duke and Duchess are properly looked after.

Senator SMITH: Can you just confirm the dates for us, while you are here?

Mr Brady : The question really should go to CERHOS in PM&C. They have the responsibility on this.

Senator SMITH: I will do that. Referring, then, to your comments about 'extensive reconnaissance', what can we expect in terms of where the royal party might visit in Australia?

Mr Brady : Again, I would suggest that you direct the question to the assistant secretary of CERHOS, who will be the Commonwealth director of the visit. He may be in a better position than me to fill you in.

Senator SMITH: Of course, the royal visit is happening 60 years after the Queen's first visit to Australia. I might just give a plug, just in case you are in discussions: the Queen in 1954 did visit Kalgoorlie-Boulder, Busselton, Albany and northern York, and departed Australia from Fremantle—so Western Australia is on the tour!

If I could go to a more serious matter, I want to discuss whether or not the media reports are correct that the Governor-General had offered her resignation, on the basis of a perception of a conflict of interest, when Mr Shorten was elected Leader of the Opposition. Can you just confirm that that was the case? There are some media reports here, Mr Brady; I am just keen to understand whether or not that is a fact.

Mr Brady : It is a fact, and she did so out of an abundance of caution, so that the Prime Minister knew that she placed the integrity of her office above all else. It is a fact.

Senator SMITH: Could you share that process with us. Does the Governor-General write to the Prime Minister? Does she have a conversation with the Prime Minister? Is that thinking conveyed by you to the Prime Minister's staff? What are the mechanics around that?

Mr Brady : In this instance it was conveyed by me to the Prime Minister's chief of staff.

Senator SMITH: And then the Prime Minister's chief of staff conveyed to you the Prime Minister's view that it would not be necessary?

Mr Brady : That is correct.

Senator SMITH: I think the Prime Minister was very, very generous in his remarks about the way that the Governor-General had been conducting herself in the role, if the media reports are to be believed.

Mr Brady : That is quite correct, Senator. I have seen the Prime Minister with the Governor-General on several occasions. He has always been extremely courteous, and respectful of her and the position.

Senator SMITH: Many Australians, including me, would agree that this Governor-General has conducted herself in a manner in which they would expect any Governor-General to conduct themselves—and of course there is no reason to doubt that the Governor-General designate will do anything other than that, and I think comes from a very strong background when it comes to public service and public courtesy. In your comments you talked about the Governor-General acting in a dignified way and about her decision to raise the perception issue. She has obviously done it in a very sensitive way, so she is alert to issues of perception. You talked about her regard to abundant caution and the integrity of her role. So it was a surprise to us then to hear that, in the Boyer Lectures, in the minds of many people, including me, she would abandon that caution, abandon the great care around integrity and perception and make a comment on what are two very, very sensitive public issues. It is not the merit of those issues that is important. But a decision was taken to trespass, if you like, into public commentary on very, very significant issues that are under active discussion in our country. Did the Governor-General take that decision herself? Did she consult with staff? What is the drafting process around that speech? Perhaps you could illuminate us on how we got to those statements at the end of the Boyer Lectures.

Mr Brady : They were the Quentin Bryce Boyer Lectures. The process was that, in 2009, Maurice Newman, as the then chair of the ABC, invited her to deliver the Boyer Lectures. I and others felt that, early in her term, it was not appropriate to accept that invitation, and each year it was re-extended. By the time the Governor-General was interested in accepting the invitation, her term ordinarily would have been completed. The Boyer Lectures are always given in November. Her term was due to finish in September. It was by mutual agreement of the then Prime Minister and the Governor-General that her term was extended by the six months. You will recall that Prime Minister Gillard had effectively announced the election date at the National Press Club, and the Governor-General and the Prime Minister made the decision that it was best that her term be extended by the half year. By this stage, the invitation to deliver the Boyer's had been locked in, and the Governor-General really set out, I suppose, to distil what she had learned over 50 years in public life and a legal career. Ms Bryce spent a long time thinking, reflecting and drafting her speeches. The two references that you make were two paragraphs of a four-part lecture series. It is not up to me to elaborate on the words. I just refer you to the Prime Minister's own comments the day after those remarks were given coverage. I quote the Prime Minister:

It is more than appropriate for the Governor-General, approaching the end of her term, to express a personal view on a number of subjects and that's what she was doing, she was expressing a personal view and, as you would expect from Quentin Bryce, she did it with grace and style.

I cannot really add much beyond that.

Senator SMITH: The Prime Minister was very generous and gracious in his remarks. I think we would all agree on that. My point is a simple one and I am not going to labour it. I think the point is well understood by people even if they do not agree with my position. By your own admission, for a number of years, the Boyer Lecture people had been offering an invitation to the Governor-General. It may well have been appropriate to delay that so there would have been an opportunity. By your own admission, distilling 50 years of her public life and experience is a very, very worthy activity. Doing it in the position of the highest person in that role, which—by your own admission and by extension, if I may, her understanding—is a task that requires abundant caution and great sensitivity to the political role.

What I struggled with was that in October last year there was a clear understanding of the sensitivity of that role. While still in the office, that sensitivity for a moment was lost. I will not labour the point, but thank you for your cooperation, Mr Brady.

CHAIR: Just for the benefit of the committee and others listening, we will conclude with the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, then we will take a brief break and we will resume with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator McKENZIE: Just following on from some of the questioning on the Victoria Cross process from Senator Wong, could you outline the process for awarding the Cross of Valour and how that actually differs from awarding the Victoria Cross?

Mr Brady : I might just ask one of the colleagues, Ms Sharon Prendergast, who is the director of the honours secretariat.

Ms Prendergast : The Cross of Valour is the highest award in the Australian bravery decorations. Nominations come from members of the public. We process them in the secretariat, do research and present them to the Australian Bravery Decorations Council. They assess those and make a recommendation to the Governor-General.

Mr Brady : Might I just add that the Prime Minister did an exceptionally nice gesture. By coincidence, the Cross of Valour recipients were in the parliament on the day that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spoke on Corporal Baird's posthumous award. The Prime Minister then invited the Baird family to join senior officeholders from the military and the parliament in his office. All those who were present who held the Cross of Valour were invited as well. It was a very nice and appreciated gesture.

Senator McKENZIE: I just wanted to go to staff turnover at Government House. I am just wondering if you could provide us with some current figures in terms of staff turnover.

Mr Fraser : Certainly. The average turnover rate since the Governor-General took office around 64 months ago, so these figures are accurate as at the end of January 2014, is 15.1 per cent. As you will appreciate, that is a fairly low figure based on public service averages and also based on the turnover rate prior to the Governor-General commencing in office. It is around 30 per cent or 35 per cent, in fact, less than the turnover rate prior to the Governor-General commencing.

Senator McKENZIE: Given that you are holding some positions open in lieu of the changes, would you consider the levels of staffing at Government House acceptable?

Mr Brady : That is a good question. The office has been subject to efficiency dividends over the last 5½ years. We are pretty much down to the bone. We have made significant savings and reductions in our use of services. But at the end of the day each agency has to live within its means, and those means are obviously set under the parameter of others. As the agency head I would say that without a major restructuring we have dramatically reduced costs in the five years to meet those efficiency dividends.

CHAIR: This question goes to the handover between the current Governor-General and the Governor-General designate. It was announced today that the new Governor-General will be sworn in on 28 March. Before that, does the Governor-General designate fly to meet Her Majesty?

Mr Brady : The practice has been in recent history that the Governor-General designate calls on the Queen. That took place at Buckingham Palace on the 19th of this month. I arranged it with Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen's private secretary, a little while ago, and General Cosgrove had an audience with the Queen and then both he and Mrs Cosgrove had lunch with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

CHAIR: Are staff allocated to General Cosgrove in his capacity as a designate Governor-General? Do they travel with him?

Mr Brady : On this occasion General Cosgrove opted, I understand, not to be accompanied by a staff member. Ms Bryce was offered a resource from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, but General Cosgrove travelled just with Mrs Cosgrove.

CHAIR: You say Ms Bryce was offered DLO. Did she avail herself of that?

Mr Brady : She availed herself of that. PM&C I think provide an EA to the Governor-General designate.

CHAIR: That was consistent with both the most recent appointment and the previous one, with Ms Bryce and General Cosgrove?

Mr Brady : I did not know Ms Bryce as Governor-General designate except towards the end.

CHAIR: Perhaps you could have a look at that for me and advise me. One final question, and it sounds a bit pernickety, but: what class of travel do they travel at as the designate?

Mr Brady : My understanding is that General Cosgrove travelled business class, at his request.

CHAIR: That is consistent with the whole of government policy, I understand.

Mr Brady : I think so.

CHAIR: And how have previous Governor-General designates travelled?

Mr Brady : I do not know but the entitlement is to first class travel.

CHAIR: Perhaps you could let me know about Ms Bryce in that respect.

Senator McKENZIE: I wanted to follow up on the low figure of staff turnover. Just to clarify, is that the figure for the office of the Governor-General? I would like to figures for Government House specifically.

Mr Fraser : All staff are employed by the official secretary and the office is the Office of the Official Secretary to the Governor-General, so there is no delineation within—no Government House figures. That is the figure for the entire agency; there are no other turnover figures.

Senator McKENZIE: So, you do not monitor various aspects of the work of the office?

Mr Fraser : Are you referring to the household, for example? Household staff?

Senator McKENZIE: Yes.

Mr Fraser : I could certainly answer that question for you on notice. But I can tell you intuitively that the turnover rate is low across the office, for various normal natural-attrition reasons.

Senator SMITH: Just into the weeds for a little moment.

Mr Brady : I got worried when I saw it!

Senator SMITH: Congratulations on the great work that the Office of the Governor-General has done because of course the Governor-General's public appearances are well supported by people like yourselves. So, congratulations.

I want to go to appendix G, 'Trends in consultancies'. I was surprised—not alarmed—to hear that there may be some consultancies. Perhaps you could provide me with some information about why they are necessary and what consultancies have been engaged. I notice that in 2009-10 there were 17 new consultancies; in 2010-11, nine new consultancies; in 2011-12, 10 new consultancies; and, in 2012-13, seven new consultancies, ranging from the cumulative cost of about 225,000 in 2009-10 and falling to $160,000 in 2012-13. Can you provide me with some information on what those consultancies were for?

Mr Fraser : Certainly. I am pleased that you have noted the overall reduction in the number of consultancies over that period. It is something that we look at very carefully within the office. As a very small agency, we of course do not have on staff all of the expertise you might need in various fields, such as engineering, heritage management, certain financial services. So, from time to time, depending on the projects that we have on—heritage projects and normal work of the office—we do engage consultants. This financial year to date we have had eight consultancies, totalling $87,207. Just to indicate the type of skills that we are seeking, it is quantity surveying, architectural advice and financial services.

Senator SMITH: That is three, and there were eight.

Mr Fraser : These have been used on several occasions.

Senator SMITH: Is there anything out of the ordinary?

Mr Fraser : Nothing other than quantity surveying, architects and financial services.

Senator SMITH: Thank you very much.

CHAIR: There being no further questions, I thank the officers for their attendance today. The committee will now take a short break.

P roceedings suspended from 15:41 to 15:59