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Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
03/08/2015
Handling of a letter sent by Mr Man Haron Monis to the Attorney-General

JONES, Ms Katherine, Deputy Secretary, Attorney-General's Department

MORAITIS, Mr Chris, Secretary, Attorney-General's Department

SHEEHAN, Mr Tony, Deputy Secretary, Strategic Policy and Coordination Group, Attorney-General's Department

Committee met at 8:54

CHAIR ( Senator Lazarus ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for its inquiry into the handling of a letter sent by Mr Man Haron Monis to the Attorney-General.

The committee's proceedings today will follow the program as circulated. These are public proceedings and are being broadcast live in Parliament House and via the web. The committee may also agree to a request to have evidence heard in camera or may determine that certain evidence should be heard in camera. I remind all witnesses that in giving public evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to the committee.

The committee prefers evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If you are a witness today and intend to request to give evidence in camera, please bring this to the attention of the secretariat as soon as possible. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is to be taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground on which it is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may, of course, also be made at any other time.

I remind the committee that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution only prohibits questions that ask for an opinion on matters of policy. It does not preclude questions that ask for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

With the formalities over, I welcome everybody here today. I welcome representatives of the Attorney-General's Department. Thank you for talking with us here today. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement and at the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you, or you can indicate that we go straight into questions, if you prefer.

Mr Moraitis : If I may make a short opening statement just to summarise a few points from the department's point of view. Obviously, as you would know, the committee is inquiring into several matters, not least the handling of the letter dated 7 October from Mr Monis to the Attorney-General, as well as the evidence provided by this department during budget estimates, including the subsequent correction. This department has provided information, including copies of relevant documents to this in response to questions raised by the committee in its earlier hearings.

I would like to assist the committee. I think it would be helpful if I were to offer some observations on issues that have emerged during those hearings. First of all, about the handling of the letter: there have obviously been suggestions that the terms of the letter in question should have prompted additional action from the department, such as referring it to ASIO or the AFP. I think, as I have said in previous hearings, I did not consider anything on the face of that letter suggested that that was warranted. I also note that the Director-General of Security during budget estimates earlier this year said that, from his point of view at least, the letter from Mr Monis was a simple letter seeking legal advice, and it was therefore appropriate that it was passed to the A-G's Department.

On the question of evidence provided by the department at budget estimates and subsequent corrections, we obviously take very seriously our obligation to ensure that information we provide is accurate. After Ms Jones became aware that her evidence may not have been accurate, I asked my department to undertake an immediate and thorough internal review into this matter. I felt that it was imperative to ensure that any correction was made with certainty and only once.

Ascertaining what had occurred involved a number of steps. Ms Jones had provided evidence at estimates that correspondence 'was provided to the review and we considered all the correspondence that was provided to us'. The review that we conducted was therefore not only about what documents the department had provided to the review but also about the question of whether the document had made its way to the review from any other source. We were not in a position to make a correction until we had completed that review.

As we know, the internal review found that the letter in question was not provided by the department to the review. Because of an administrative error, it was not included in the package. I will not go into the details because we have gone through those. Upon being advised of the findings of the internal review, I took prompt action to inform the Attorney-General and then Ms Jones corrected the evidence that we had provided to the committee.

As indicated also in material we provided recently to this committee, it appears that an officer of the department became aware on 2 February 2015 that the letter of 7 October had not been included in the package. This was something that emerged in the course of our internal review. We can touch on that later, if you wish.

By way of conclusion, let me just say that, as you know, mistakes have been made by the department. However, officers at all times have been endeavouring to do their best. We have learnt lessons from this. As you know, I mentioned in the first hearing that I had undertaken to look at enhanced procedures for dealing with these sorts of processes. I can say that that process has now been promulgated. It is on our systems and officers are pursuing that process of ensuring that documents are passed in totality from now on. So we have learnt lessons from this process.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Moraitis. As no other witnesses want to make an opening statement, we will open the floor to questions.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Mr Moraitis, I would like to start on some of the areas you raised in your opening statement. I think it is unfortunate that some of the matters that subsequently surfaced were not covered in your original opening statement. For example, from the committee's point of view, discovering that the department was aware that the correspondence had not been provided back in February was something that would have been useful for us to have been advised of earlier. So we will spend a bit of time today covering why that information was not provided sooner. Looking at the fairly complex and detailed information that has now been provided to the committee, the most stark question is: the department was aware in February that the correspondence had not been provided and so, when Ms Jones gave her evidence on the Wednesday in estimates that in her understanding it had been, why did it take so long for the department not to advise Ms Jones of what had occurred back in February?

Mr Moraitis : On the question of the 2 February issue, when you say the department was aware, that emerged on 1 June. That is when it first emerged at a senior level, at any level above that officer who had raised that issue on 2 February, that it had happened. As far as I know—and I will ask Ms Jones and Mr Sheehan to confirm this—that was the first time that anyone apart from that officer was aware of that interchange and discussion between that officer and the review team. That was a development that emerged in the course of that process with Mr Sheehan looking into this issue. No-one was aware of that before that time, apart from the officer who raised it.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But your opening statement to this inquiry occurred subsequent to that.

Mr Moraitis : Yes. I considered that the issue I needed to address was in generic terms. I expected that issue to be raised in the course of the hearings and that we would get to that. Unfortunately, we did not get to that. In retrospect, I would have preferred that I had raised it and I should have, but it was not germane to the reason why the letter had not been passed through. There was enough detail in getting across the concept of a second tab. That was the main cause of why the document was not passed through. This was a case, I guess, of a missed opportunity that had occurred. My expectation was—and certainly Mr Sheehan's expectation was—that we would get to that in our discussions. I wanted to keep my opening statement generic and focused on the main items.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But, Mr Moraitis, if we did not know that this exchange occurred in the department back in February, what on earth would have triggered us to ask a question that that had occurred? The only reason that this committee became aware of that fact was that we got frustrated with how the department was describing some of the correspondence we did ultimately see and Senator Ludwig asked for all of it.

Mr Moraitis : Sure. I understand that. My understanding, and my expectation was that we would have got to that in a process of deliberation. Mr Sheehan can confirm that as well.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But only if we had been able to—

Senator LUDWIG: Ask the question.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: guess to ask the question.

Senator LUDWIG: If we had not asked the question, you would never have got to it, I take it.

Mr Moraitis : No. From my perspective, to be honest with you, it was a development, a piece of information, that I, certainly, was not aware of until early June—that afternoon of 1 June. It was one of the reasons that it certainly got me—

Senator LUDWIG: You may not favour this, but the more reasonable explanation, ultimately, is that by the time estimates occurred—and, in my experience, most of the department watches estimates—it dawned on whoever had or had seen the correspondence of February, who then said, 'Ah, there's a problem here', and raised the issue at that point, rather than it coming out in this dribbly way, with all respect, Ms Jones. It seems to be the more obvious answer. It seems that the only time you will give us any information is if we either ask you a specific question or we tip it out of you and ask for all of the correspondence. Is that the way we are going to have to deal with AGD in the future? Will we simply ask for everything?

Mr Moraitis : No, not at all. I was not aware of this matter. It was not, certainly, brought to my attention until the afternoon of 1 June. That was my understanding with Mr Sheehan and, certainly, Ms Jones, who was the person speaking at estimates. I think she wants to say something.

Ms Jones : I do note that the letter from Mr Moraitis to the Attorney-General, dated 4 June and which was provided to this committee on 2 July, notes the issue that on 2 February officers in the department became aware. So it was included in the report that was tendered to this committee on 2 July.

CHAIR: Mr Sheehan.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Before you move on, Mr Sheehan, I want to follow through on what Ms Jones was referring to.

Senator LUDWIG: The report that we are talking about in July, when was that?

Mr Moraitis : It was the letter that I wrote to the Attorney-General on 4 June—which you would have.

Senator LUDWIG: No. Ms Jones said there was a report in July.

Ms Jones : No. That letter was provided to this committee on 2 July.

Senator LUDWIG: I see. Thank you.

Mr Sheehan : Following up what Mr Moraitis has said, I did expect to talk about the issue of 2 February at the first hearing and get involved in the issue of the spreadsheet. I realised that I did not talk about it. Having heard what Senator Ludwig has said, I think it is important to say that the way in which the events occurred on 2 February—and I spoke with officers on 1 June about this as we were trying to understand the picture of what had occurred—was that one officer, in looking at material for the AFP, concluded that the document may not have been passed and contacted another officer in the division that had passed the information and said, 'There may be correspondence that has not been passed.' That officer then made contact with the review and was told that they were not accepting further correspondence, and the matter rested. There was not proper corporate knowledge of it, so individuals did not create a picture at that time that would have given the department that knowledge. There is a very clear recognition that that is not a good outcome in terms of the way it was handled.

Senator LUDWIG: But you can see, in one respect, you have got a haphazard way of document handling. It appears that a document was recognised in February that said it was not passed. They then, rather than go through the established process for contacting the review, contacted the review directly to see what had occurred, rather than use your formal process. If this is the way AGD handles documents, have we got any confidence that any documents get through?

Mr Moraitis : I agree with you. As I said, mistakes have been made. I have initiated a process to ensure that we do these things properly. This is just an experience where things have gone wrong for one letter at several occasions, unfortunately. It has certainly given us a lot of soul searching about how we approach these processes. I have looked at it very carefully. I have promulgated a process of ensuring that things are done. But it also requires a case of looking at how you elevate things up the line if some junior officer makes a call and then leaves it at that. I would rather they raised it at a higher level and said, 'I've called the review team. They've said whatever. What do you think?' That has not happened. As I said, mistakes have been made and I want to ensure that we improve those processes. I am not saying it has been a perfect process—far from it. I have been as upset about it as anyone, obviously.

Senator LUDWIG: It is not that I do not believe in conspiracy theories, but you are encouraging me to!

Mr Moraitis : I will give you an example. At the first hearing, you asked us about a web page being removed. I said I had never heard of that. When we went back and checked, it was actually an officer who was being proactive and decided, 'This does not follow the guidelines, and I've taken it off,' and has not told their supervisor, has not told anyone. There is a conspiracy there!

Senator LUDWIG: But it all adds up. So you knew in February and nobody raised it, although the officers knew. By the time you then went to a QTB, the QTB said that all documents had been provided, although in the same department the person next to them, presumably, knew that it had not been provided. There was a correction to the QTB. There was then the web page pulled out. By the time you add it all up—

Mr Moraitis : I am sorry, but bureaucracies are bureaucracies. We try to keep it as simple as we can, but these things happen. I apologise for it. I sincerely do.

Senator BILYK: But there should be some accountability, shouldn't there—

Mr Moraitis : Yes, and—

Senator BILYK: to the taxpayer? I am still aghast that somebody just decided in the department that they would take a web page down. Surely there is a process whereby somebody is either asked to remove that website or they account to somebody for the fact that they have done that.

Mr Moraitis : It was not the removal of a website; it was a press release—

Senator BILYK: A web page.

Mr Moraitis : Of a press release. The relevant officer, who is a public affairs officer, who knows the guidelines, looked at the guidelines. I think they just followed the guidelines and were being proactive.

Senator BILYK: But the person who put it up did not follow the guidelines?

Mr Moraitis : I do not know who put it up.

Mr Sheehan : I think I explained at the previous hearing the process for putting up the documents that come through the web server. You are correct, Senator: the process should have involved communication as to what was happening. The officer did the right thing but did not communicate what they had done, and that is not what should occur.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: What should occur, under the guidelines?

Mr Sheehan : In those circumstances, the matter should have been reported up and should also have been communicated to the Attorney's office.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Could you provide us with a report of when these guidelines have been applied, on how many instances?

Mr Sheehan : Yes. I think, in answer to a question, we said that it is not the only instance. Whether we are going to be able to say how often it has happened, I am not sure, but we will get whatever information we can.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I would like to understand whether Senator Brandis is a serial offender, because I think there is a speech just in the last week that I have noticed has subsequently come down.

CHAIR: Did the officer give a reason for why he took it down?

Mr Sheehan : Yes. At the time, the view was that there was content in it that did not accord with guidelines that could go on the website that is hosted by the department. That is something that could happen, and it is not a matter of offending so much as, when it happens, we need to take it down. But, if we take something down, we should tell people that we have taken it down, and that was the key issue.

CHAIR: Did this officer have the authority to do that?

Mr Sheehan : Yes, I think the officer had the authority to do it but I think in those circumstances should have reported up that they were doing it and obviously told the Attorney's office that it was occurring.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Has this failure to communicate to the Attorney's office been more than in just this instance? Does that explain why the Attorney continues to offend?

Mr Sheehan : I think it would be safe to say, Senator, that we will not see a repeat of that.

Senator LUDWIG: Have you now followed it up and corrected the record with the Attorney and said: 'We took a document down. We didn't inform you about it. We've corrected the record and now informed you about it'?

Mr Sheehan : I believe the relevant division has told them, yes.

Senator LUDWIG: I do not think you would ever mislead the committee, but saying 'believe' makes me then ask the question: can the department—

Mr Moraitis : We will confirm it.

Mr Sheehan : I will confirm it and should be able to confirm it during the hearing.

Senator LUDWIG: All right. Thanks very much.

Mr Sheehan : I can confirm it now, in fact. The office was advised.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Just because I have noticed within the last week another speech that was uploaded that has been subsequently taken down—and I think this was Senator Bilyk's original query: how does it get uploaded in the first instance without some sort of look at the guidelines about whether it is appropriate to go on the department's website?

Mr Moraitis : Do you mean electronically uploaded?

Mr Sheehan : It comes through the web server and is uploaded by the webmaster.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So anything the Attorney does is automatically uploaded?

Mr Sheehan : Normally, the division will try and check before it is uploaded, but there are occasions where things have been uploaded and then the officers have seen it and taken it down.

CHAIR: Is that an issue of process?

Mr Moraitis : It is.

CHAIR: Has that been addressed, though?

Mr Sheehan : I think it has. I am confident to say that we would not have an instance now where something is taken down where we do not tell the Attorney's office it happened. Before I say to the committee that I am confident that nothing would go up which subsequently needs to be taken down, I will need to double-check the process. I cannot say that for certain, Chair, because of the way the process is.

Mr Moraitis : My understanding is that you have a person who is an IT person called a webmaster, and they put it on because that is their job. But then there is someone who actually does the checking to see if the content is right. It is the nature, again, of some people who do their job, which is the IT job, and someone who does the checking—

CHAIR: That is putting the cart before the horse, in my opinion.

Mr Moraitis : Yes, I think that is probably a good way of looking at it.

CHAIR: I would like to think that process should be looked at anyway, at the very least.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I would still like to go back to what occurred in early February, because, in part from what we have subsequently received, it is very clear from both PM&C and AGD that through the course of the Monday and into the Tuesday, the 2nd, the facts were very clear and unequivocal. Mr Moraitis, you may well have wanted to go through a review to understand what had occurred, but from the department's knowledge the facts were pretty clear from whoever this officer was back on 2 February, on the day itself, when Ms Jones gave her evidence. So the facts were clear enough for the minister's office to change the QTB and yet we needed to wait until more than a week after Ms Jones gave her evidence for the correction to be made. What I fail to understand is why the correction could not have been made as soon as it was understood it needed to be made. Your review as to what happened back in February and subsequently could then have occurred.

Mr Moraitis : Senator, I think—

Senator LUDWIG: We would not be here if it had occurred that way, I suspect.

Mr Moraitis : I appreciate that, but, at the end of the day, I had information available to me on that Monday afternoon and I made the judgement call that we needed to confirm that this letter had not been passed to the review team by any means, not just through the department's first tab or failure to provide on a second tab or even the oral information that came out about the 2 February discussion. I wanted to know: can we say that the department has not passed this letter in any way or communicated this in any way to the review team? I was not getting an answer to say that we can confirm that that never happened. At the same time, I was not sure that any other source of this letter was also being made available to the review team. That was the reason I wanted to be satisfied and have a review. You may consider that was, in retrospect, the wrong call, because it was obvious on the face of it, on the Monday or the Tuesday, that, because the department had not passed it in the first batch or an officer said, 'I'd been approached on 2 February about this and I'd spoken to the review team,' that was not known to anyone until 1 June. That was a factor for me which just surprised me even more, made me wonder how many other discussions like that that we were not aware of in the period January-February, from us or from any other source or any other means—that was the main thought on my mind. I have thought about this long and hard since then, and I must say, on the information that I had available to me at that stage, that was the judgement call I made.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: We know that that is the judgement call you made. In retrospect now, from what has been before the committee, what has been canvassed publicly, do you accept that AGD has subsequently been exposed to question by comments to the effect that AGD are ducking for cover, that the correction should have been made sooner, that the material before us shows it was very clear to PM&C and AGD on 1 June that Ms Jones needed to correct the record and, by virtue of a review just to see if miraculously it had been furnished some other way, Ms Jones failed to provide a correction when it was indicated she would?

Mr Moraitis : Can I just say a couple of things in response. The point about ducking for cover—I understand that came from PM&C. Frankly, I do not understand that phrase. That was not my impression of what was going on in the department, to be honest with you. Were we running around looking for answers? Yes. Were we running around like headless chooks, if I might use that phrase, a colloquialism? Perhaps. But 'ducking for cover' is not the language I would have used.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You were failing to correct the record. Even though the QTB was changed on 2 June, you were failing to correct the record.

Senator LUDWIG: It seems to me that PM&C had complete clarity over what they saw was happening, and, as it turned out, it appears to be true—that they did have clarity. It did look like you were ducking for cover. Ducking for cover is a clear expression. We all know what it means. If you need me to explain it to you, I will, but—

Mr Moraitis : I can assure you, Senator, I was not ducking for cover, and I do not think anyone in the department was ducking for cover. That is my honest view.

Mr Sheehan : If it is helpful to the committee, I will talk about what was happening on the Monday. After I met with Mr Moraitis, I asked officers to tell me what they knew, and it was in that discussion, for the first time, the issue of the second tab of the spreadsheet emerged as the problem. Up to that point, that was not known. Of course there was someone in the department who knew that there was a breakdown within the spreadsheet, but the individuals who had provided the information to PM&C had not. We also discussed the issue of 2 February, and officers spoke about their recollection of that. We quickly prepared an email after that, which was going on, I think, and was sent around the time I went to brief Mr Moraitis. In retrospect, that email, I think, did not fully explain the situation and may have given the impression that we had known about the spreadsheet and so forth.

I then went to explain to Mr Moraitis what information I had just been provided. It would be fair to say that he was quite incredulous and started asking questions of me, such as, 'If this happened, how do we know nothing else had happened? How do we know it has not been passed in other ways?' et cetera. That obviously then led to further work being done. We had sent officers off to understand the spreadsheet and so forth. That was actually quite a complex piece of work which continued on through the review. That is the case.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Mr Sheehan, it is clear from the correspondence we have been provided that discussion within the department on Thursday 28 May, the day after Ms Jones gave her evidence, was seeking to understand tab 1 and tab 2.

Mr Sheehan : Sorry, what are you referring to?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am trying to understand why it took as long as until the Monday for it to filter up to the discussion you were just talking about.

Mr Sheehan : What is the Thursday we are talking about?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: We are looking at attachment A. This is in an email from Karen Horsfall to someone whose name has been redacted and cc'd to Jamie Lowe. It says: 'Re the Monis QTB, Thursday 28 May.' It was attachment A in the last set of documents that AGD provided on 25 July.

Ms Jones : That was an attachment to a QTB that was sent up. It was a follow-up to an email that had been sent 10 minutes earlier or something and which we have also provided to the committee. The attachment purported to list all the documents that the department had provided to the Martin Place siege review. At that point, the documents from 2009 onwards had not been listed because of the administrative error in the department. But the officer in question obviously had personal knowledge of the 7 October 2014 letter because she had been the author of it. So she corrected the table to add that in at that point in time.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Is this comment here that says, 'Sorry, you are referring to something being missing from a attachment C. I will update it and send it through. It's just one document from 2014,' from the officer you were referring to?

Ms Jones : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Again, the name of the person to whom this email went has been redacted. Can you describe, without indicating the name of the person, what position was involved in this interchange? Was it an AGD officer?

Ms Jones : No. It was sent to someone in the Attorney's office, as is the normal process for—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The middle email is from someone to someone whose name has been redacted. So was it from someone in the Attorney's office or from someone in AGD?

Ms Jones : I believe it was from someone in the Attorney's office.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Who was it sent to?

Ms Jones : A junior officer in the department. It was a non-SES officer in the department, I believe.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So the Attorney's office on Thursday 28 May says to someone back in the department, 'Correspondence from 2010.' This has been my whole issue with the whole tab 1 and tab 2 scenario. I had asked in our earlier hearing if someone could please describe to me the difference between tab 1 and tab 2, and I got a very unsatisfactory answer. When I finally got to look at the two documents myself, it was very clear. It took two minutes of simple deductive reasoning to work out what had gone wrong. While Mr Sheehan now says, 'It took us quite a bit of time to understand what the issues and problems were,' according to this email you even had someone in the Attorney's office saying, 'Correspondence from 2010.' This is not even just the joke that the media made about tab 2; this is far worse. This is that the Attorney-General's Department failed to provide, to, from what we can gather, either the coronial inquest or the PM&C review, correspondence related to Monis and the search you did regarding Monis since 2010—all of the most relevant current correspondence.

Mr Sheehan : The issue of tab 2, once it became known, I agree with you, was clear; we needed to make sure that that was actually the problem and, as the committee is aware, we checked the documents on tab 2 with PM&C on the Tuesday to see whether they had them. If PM&C had come back and said, 'No, you gave us those then,' we would have been more confused; as it happened, they said, 'We have four of the five of them'—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: From other sources.

Mr Sheehan : From other sources—that is correct. Once we were aware of that—I do not disagree with you in any way—it was clear that that was the problem.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So, Mr Sheehan, why, when I asked: 'What is the difference between tab 1 and tab 2?' could you not have described that?

Mr Sheehan : Because, at that point, I had not recollected that one related to our filing system and one related to ministerial correspondence.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But, if you had identified, back when you were looking at what had gone wrong—back on 28 May this Attorney's office person understood it—that none of the correspondence since 2010 had been provided, why was it so difficult for you to answer that question of mine?

Mr Sheehan : Because I could not recall why the spreadsheet had been broken up the way that it had been, and I checked afterwards and realised why it was. I knew that it had been broken up; I just could not remember why it had been broken up in the way that it was. The officer who did it was trying to be helpful.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Mr Sheehan, even when we pursued it as a question on notice because an answer was not forthcoming that was satisfactory shortly afterwards, with respect, even the answer provided on notice was unsatisfactory.

Mr Sheehan : I think we provided—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You provided an answer which was unsatisfactory.

Mr Sheehan : We provided those two tabs and we have also provided another spreadsheet, and I think I offered to explain them at the previous hearing—the two tabs.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, I asked you for an explanation; you were unable to provide one.

Mr Sheehan : Respectfully, at the first hearing I did not explain why it was that it was broken into tabs. At the second hearing, I believe—and I can check the record—that I offered to go through the spreadsheet. And of course I will do so, if that is helpful to the committee.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You do not need to because, as a result of your not very helpful answer, we asked for a copy of the spreadsheets to look at ourselves and, once we looked at them, it was very clear—as it was on 28 May to an officer in the Attorney's office—what the problem was. I fail to understand why you cannot understand that there have been suggestions that AGD was ducking for cover here. It is clear, from the tabs, that correspondence post 2010 had not been provided. That is a significant error that you cannot hide behind, 'Oh, we gave tab 1 but not tab 2,' and then fail to describe the difference between the two tabs until it is drawn out of you.

Mr Sheehan : I do not disagree that this was a mistake. We agree that the department made a mistake, and it was not a good mistake—we recognise that. Mr Moraitis asked for the review, and we got to the bottom of it. It does not mean that we did not make a mistake. We accept that. We did.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Ms Jones, when were you first asked to correct the record?

Ms Jones : It was not such a matter of being asked; it was a matter of becoming aware. Obviously, it is my testimony that required correction and, ultimately—whilst, of course, the secretary initiated the review to try and determine what happened—it was my responsibility to correct my evidence. I note the point that my evidence was that the letter had been provided to the Martin Place siege review, not that it had been provided by the Attorney-General's Department. In order for me to be able to accurately correct that record, we needed to confirm the fact that the letter had not come from AGD but also that the letter had not been received by some other means by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Ultimately, it was my responsibility to correct my incorrect evidence to the committee, and I needed to be satisfied that we had all the information so I could do it and do it once.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Why were you not satisfied when PM&C were satisfied on the Monday.

Ms Jones : I think PM&C's advice on the Monday was that they had checked the index that PM&C had created of documents received from AGD and that it did not appear on the index. That is one piece of information. In terms of the totality of the documents that PM&C held in relation to the review, I think Mr McKinnon at the last hearing of this committee gave some information about the very significant quantum of documents that were held. We could not rule out the fact that, notwithstanding that it did not appear on the index that had been created by PM&C, the document could still have been provided by AGD or by another agency. It was our experience, being on the review, that the same documents could potentially have been provided by multiple agencies because they came into their possession for a range of reasons.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Once the index had been looked at on the Monday—this is where the PM&C correspondence is very clear—they were satisfied. Any reasonable person referring to that correspondence understands very clearly that they were unequivocal. You needed to correct the record, they did not have the document and in fact you were welcome to come and search for yourself if you wanted to.

Ms Jones : I actually think that second point raises an issue. Whilst they were confident that it did not appear on the index, that is all they knew at that point in time.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: They were reaching other conclusions. If you again refer to the correspondence, the conclusions were that they did not have it and you needed to correct the record.

Ms Jones : All I am aware of is the advice that they provided: that it was not on the index that they had created for AGD documents.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Who suggested, then, that you wait until a review before you corrected your evidence?

Ms Jones : That was my own view that it was necessary in order to be able to do that, but it was obviously in consultation with the secretary of the department.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Even though PM&C are indicating on the Monday that you needed to correct the evidence, you accepted advice from elsewhere to wait until some further review occurred and not correct your evidence in the timely fashion that was recommended by PM&C—in fact, by the secretary of PM&C. Were you aware that the secretary of PM&C was on the Monday, whilst he would ordinarily be preoccupied with cabinet business, ringing AGD, saying, 'Ms Jones needs to correct the record'?

Ms Jones : I am not aware of any phone call made by the secretary of PM&C. I go back to my previous point: what we knew on Monday was that the letter was not on the index that had been prepared by PM&C.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: What the secretary of PM&C knew, according to the correspondence—which is on the record, so you might want to look at it, because it is your reputation that is here—was that on the Thursday the foreign minister had repeated your error and he was keen to ensure that the error was not further repeated and that you needed to correct your evidence as soon as possible. This was never brought to your attention?

Ms Jones : No.

Mr Moraitis : I will say this: on the Monday afternoon, I was not aware that PM&C was so definitive about their position, if that is your interpretation. All I knew was that they could confirm it was not on the first batch of documents or the tab 1 index—wherever it was. I was not aware of PM&C's secretary's email either. I was up with the Attorney, raising the issue of the probable need for a correction. At the same time, I had real concerns about correcting the record accurately. To be honest, it was as Mr Sheehan said. I was presented with a series of, let us say, revelations that pretty much left me astounded. The one thing I wanted was to ensure that any correction that was done was accurate. To be honest, the flip side of that was to ensure that we made no more mistakes. That was another concern that I had. 'Okay, there's this series of administrative errors, oversights, people not communicating up the line, checking material that, frankly, you could not make up. Make sure that, if and when we do correct, it is corrected properly and, secondly, please, no more mistakes.' That was the mindset in which I was approaching this.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Perhaps the element missing from that mindset is to ensure that no subsequent mistakes occur. When you failed to correct the record whilst you were going through these processes when the facts are pretty clear, things such as the foreign minister repeating the same incorrect evidence occur. Fortunately, the Attorney's office had changed the QTB so it was not repeated again in the following sitting week, but still the Senate waited for a correction.

Mr Moraitis : I appreciate that, but from my perspective I had to ensure the department fulfilled its obligations properly. I was very concerned about what had happened in the lead-up to this—the mistakes, errors and administrative mishaps. I just wanted to ensure that Ms Jones's correction was correct. I was told that she was now saying that she could not recall that this was the letter that she had seen. It might have been another letter. She could not be sure whether it was ever passed to the committee. I was not across the details of all this; I was just given a very quick summary of the issues that evolved in the course of that day. My take out of all that was, 'Let's not jump to conclusions here.' A formal process had been followed. There was a review team over a period of weeks. I have had experiences of other reviews in the past in my career and I know for a fact that there were multiple sources of information being conveyed. It is a process of accretion of information, of documents coming and going. That was the image I had in front of me of what could have gone on or not have gone on.

You said before that somehow it miraculously appeared or otherwise. I could not discount that it had been presented to the review team somehow from other sources. I was also told that other agencies had this letter as well. I did not know how they had it, but I assumed it was because of the process of the review team sharing information. I did not know the details of how the review team worked, how many people were involved both in the team and in the department. On that basis, I had to make a judgement call of the best way to go forward from the department's point of view. I respect your concerns about not informing the Senate, and I can assure you that your counsel to me about correcting records from previous occasions was in my mind, but I also had to ensure the department stopped making mistakes and started correcting the record properly.

Senator LUDWIG: How did Ms Jones communicate to you? Was there email or a conversation?

Ms Jones : I spoke directly with Mr Sheehan.

Senator LUDWIG: When was that?

Ms Jones : Monday morning.

Senator LUDWIG: I am not like Ian Macdonald; I am not asking for a specific time. But it was Monday morning. What was the nature of the conversation? Have you told us this before? Could you remind me?

Ms Jones : Yes, it was in the first hearing that we went through that.

Senator LUDWIG: That was the 10:15?

Ms Jones : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So we do not get into what was some of the confusing earlier evidence, if you are going to start that conversation, I suspect—

Senator LUDWIG: No, no.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: she should go back to the phone conversation that occurred on the Friday.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

Ms Jones : Sorry; I am not quite sure what you are referring to there.

Senator LUDWIG: When did you speak to Mr Moraitis—if at all?

Ms Jones : I would need to take that on notice, but I spoke directly to Mr Sheehan on the Monday morning.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But you also spoke to Mr Sheehan on the Friday?

Ms Jones : Friday afternoon, yes. That is correct.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: What I wanted you to be clear about was what conversations occurred and what the subject of those distinct conversations was. In earlier evidence I think it was about seven times that you told us you had your conversation on the Monday. Then, when we raised the press release 'Dreyfus's cheap shot' that was taken down, it triggered something in someone's memory, and we worked out that, no, you had had a conversation on the Friday.

Mr Sheehan : In the first hearing we said that the first conversation occurred on the Friday.

Senator BILYK: I think you will find that someone—it may well have been you or Ms Jones—first said on the Monday, and then you spoke to her, and she said on the Friday.

Mr Sheehan : I think you are correct.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I still want to clarify what occurred back in February. The junior officer obviously did not report up, because Ms Jones was not aware of anything that happened with the AFP around 2 February. Is that correct?

Ms Jones : Not at the time, no.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Were you still in PM&C at that time, or had you come back to the department?

Ms Jones : On 2 February I think I was still in PM&C. I would need to take that on notice. There was a day or two when I was still working on the review but trying to come back and take on my substantive duties. I can confirm with you whether I was formally back in with the Attorney-General's Department or still in PM&C.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. Potentially, then, PM&C did not brief up either. You were not told in your capacity seconded onto the task force that, oh, by the way, AGD has just rung and said that it was this correspondence that had not been provided earlier.

Ms Jones : That is right. Neither Mr McKinnon nor I were aware of that.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. You then went back to the department. The junior department officer that had liaised with the task force presumably made no further reference to it. Correct me if I am wrong in my understanding of any of this. That information sat dormant until when?

Mr Moraitis : It is hard to believe, but as far as I know it was dormant until 1 June. I am as amazed as you are.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. Ahead of 1 June that officer felt no need to indicate, regardless of what had happened in estimates, question time and other discussion around it, that, by the way, we knew this back on 2 February.

Mr Moraitis : I am not aware that they have ever raised it before.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Is the officer still within the department?

Mr Moraitis : I think they are.

Mr Sheehan : The officer is still in the department.

Senator LUDWIG: The officer never directly raised it? It had to be found?

Mr Moraitis : I understand it came out in the course of that. I asked Mr Sheehan on the Monday to get to the bottom of it, and it just so happened that the officer was the one who was helping. Correct me if I am wrong, Mr Sheehan, but it was just serendipity or coincidence that the person who was helping was the person who had been involved back in February.

Mr Sheehan : My understanding is that the picture was forming in that division that they were concerned that it had not been passed. Others believed it had been passed. Ms Jones was very confident that it had been passed. The department was comfortable that the letter had reached there. It was when we put all the officers together on the Monday that that picture emerged as to what had occurred. But I think it is fair to say that the picture was forming in the mind of that division that there may have been a problem.

Senator LUDWIG: How many people are in the division? Roughly—I will not hold you to it.

Mr Sheehan : Probably close to 100, I think.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: This is your division, Ms Jones?

Ms Jones : One of the divisions for which I am responsible.

Mr Moraitis : One of four or five. I also say that it has been a very busy time with national security in the relevant divisions in the last few months. It was a quiet time as well. That is not to excuse it; it is just to put it into the context of people being extremely overworked. I started in this department in September and that particular division has been working pretty hard on national security issues.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: As you said, Mr Moraitis, not to excuse it, but it does highlight other relevant issues for us, which is: if the level of resourcing available to deal with these critical national security issues is leading to situations where correspondence is being bungled in the way that it has been, then we have a problem.

CHAIR: Has your department had cuts to its resources?

Mr Moraitis : Like all departments, we have had efficiency dividends and other cuts, of course. But obviously Ms Jones and I talk incessantly about the issue of resourcing for her relevant areas. We are already working on that and we have put a lot of resources into that area to deal with a whole variety of issues, whether it is legislative changes, new novel institutions like dealing with terrorism online—which is a new area of expertise that we are developing—and that is a new proposal that has come through with resourcing. So, yes, we are addressing that, and I appreciate that. It is just that it was a period, the summer break, when people had been through a very busy four or five months. Again I am not excusing it; I am just trying to give you a contextualisation of it. Also there was the siege happening in December and then Ms Jones going off to the review team to help as one of the co-senior officers with Mr McKinnon. That is just the reality. Like all departments, resourcing is a challenge. We have to prioritise relevantly, and obviously national security is a priority.

CHAIR: Do you have the resources to properly manage?

Mr Moraitis : I think we do. We just need to realign them a bit more. Ms Jones and I have been talking about restructuring the division so that we do focus on the national security division a bit more. At the same time, going into the summer period, the other division that Ms Jones deals with is Emergency Management Australia. Going into a bushfire season, you have all hands on deck during that period. You cannot pull resources from that area. These are the sorts of calls you have to make. At the same time, another division deals with cybersecurity, which is another issue that we need to deal with. So obviously there are priorities, all of them equally important, and national security in the last 10 to 12 months has been a priority issue. Both Ms Jones and Mr Sheehan have worked in that area and they can confirm the tempo and the pressures that have been put there. Having started the day after the national security alert went up, I can honestly say it has been a relentless period, and I have got to know the work and I must say that they are an extremely committed bunch of people in those divisions.

CHAIR: I do not doubt that. My concern is that we do not have the resources to deal with all the issues.

Mr Moraitis : I appreciate that. It is dealing with national security threats, it is working with agencies in the national security space, it is dealing with the tranches of legislation ranging from updates of the law to foreign fighters, to data retention, to other things. At the same time, to put it into perspective, across the board the review team was set up. We provided input on a variety of issues that the review team wanted to look at, whether it was guns, whether it was legal assistance. There was a whole variety of themes. From what I understand, the review team appreciated the amount of work that was done just before Christmas and New Year's Eve—excellent work. The compilation of material was done almost perfectly. It is that one letter that was off the—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Mr Moraitis, I do not think you can say it is the one letter. It may be the one process, but, as Senator Ludwig said to me a moment ago, what if this letter had been far more significant? It was, on tab 2, all correspondence since 2010. The only thing we can be satisfied with there is that, had it been more significant, we now understand, because of another correction to a QTB, it would have been referred to an agency, and perhaps that agency might have provided it to the review team or the coronial inquest. There were two issues that the Attorney's office corrected the QTB on. One was that not all correspondence had been provided. Remember this was back on the Tuesday morning. Not all correspondence had been provided, and, secondly, some material had been referred to relevant agencies. So there was a misapprehension even over the circumstances concerning when material might be referred to relevant agencies as well.

Mr Moraitis : I think we have discussed the issue of that letter of 7 October—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, we were talking about our concern that, had this letter been of more critical substance, it could have just been lost in tab 2.

Fortunately, we would hope it would have been referred to an agency and that agency would have provided it to the review team.

Mr Moraitis : Do you mean it would have been referred in October? Sorry, I misunderstand you.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am saying if there was a piece of correspondence—perhaps the other four that got to the review team via other sources—AGD did not provide it, because it was lost in all correspondence since 2010, but other agencies provided that other potentially more critical correspondence. The main point I am making is that we are not talking about just one piece of correspondence.

Mr Moraitis : I appreciate that. As we said from the start, there has been a real error here. I have bent over backwards in the department to get a process in place whereby this never happens again. I cannot guarantee that it will never happen again, but I am going to be sure that we do the best we can. Does it mean having three sets of eyes to look at material—one who collates it, one who ensures it goes out and one who verifies it has been received—and they audit and reconcile it? If that has to be done it has to be done. That is what I want to be done from now on. I appreciate that. I am the first to be mortified about what has happened.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I think in part the assurance we are seeking is that the process—or, as was described by PM&C, the ducking for cover element—will not occur again. I have given you the example—and Mr Sheehan may not accept this—but the handling of our questions attempting to understand the difference between tab 1 and tab 2 was not satisfactory.

Mr Moraitis : I am sorry if that was the case. I think Mr Sheehan tried the best he could. I was there listening and I tried to follow it.

Mr Sheehan : Any shortcomings in the description of the two tabs were shortcomings of mine relating to my understanding of the technical reason why documents were separated into tabs. I recall that you had a better understanding of spreadsheets than I did and why it might be. I went back and checked. We provided the two tabs of the spreadsheet and it was clear why it was that they had been separated. The officer who did it was trying to be helpful in separating it in that way. It was not—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: It was not that the officer was trying to be helpful; it was two different information systems. The difficulty for the department and for national security and for the review processes—and I will get to the coronial inquest in a moment—and the consequence of that was that the correspondence since 2010 had not been provided. All correspondence since 2010 was not provided by AGD. That is the significant issue. That is not one letter about Man Monis. The significant administrative issue about handling correspondence relating to national security was that all recent correspondence of relevance—four years of correspondence—had not been provided.

Mr Moraitis : I take what you are saying. I did not mean to suggest that, when I said before, that there was only one letter. I take your point now. I did not realise the tenor of your observation.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But, in order to understand that that was the issue, it needed to be drawn out. The only way I could ascertain that that was the issue, that that was the error, was to say: send me the damn spreadsheets and I will look at it for myself!

Senator LUDWIG: It might not have been obvious to you, but it was not obvious to us.

Mr Sheehan : While I recognise that my technical explanation of spreadsheets did not hugely impress you, I did not describe the documents from the second spreadsheet at the first hearing. I accept what you are saying. Had there been other documents on the second tab that were relevant, that would have been an issue.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No, the critical issue was that tab 2 was all correspondence since 2010. That is a significant problem.

Senator LUDWIG: Is that correct? Let us be clear about this so that there is no argument again. Tab 2 was all correspondence from 2010 from AGD.

Mr Sheehan : Yes, I think that is correct, because the more recent correspondence was on that system, not in the other filing system.

Senator LUDWIG: That is extraordinary. This is the third hearing we have had and it has taken us this long to establish the principle fact that it not only is one letter—there has been a range of media commentary that we are searching for one letter—but ultimately is potentially correspondence from 2010. So a systemic failure in your system has failed to provide all correspondence from 2010 onwards to the review. That is correct, isn't it?

Mr Sheehan : Could I say that it was not a systemic failure; it was a specific error. As I have said, it was not a good error. It happened at a time that I was acting secretary—not Mr Moraitis—and I recognise that. It is not something that I am pleased about and I have asked myself many times what I should have done differently. But I do not think it is correct to describe it as a systemic error. What we have done though, as Mr Moraitis has said, is look carefully at what happened. Through the lessons learnt from that, we now, I think, have protocols in place that will minimise the risk of anything like that happening again.

Mr Moraitis : I would like to clarify the processes. It is not just about setting up a protocol for how you handle material; it is also about my desire to ensure that, when we do set up these sorts of processes, there is someone responsible. It will not be not one, two or three divisions handling material in a sort of conveyor belt approach. There will actually be someone who takes personal responsibility—ultimately me or the acting secretary—and says: 'The process has found A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Have you satisfied yourself that that covers every single thing in the system? Has it been delivered to the addressee? Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick.' That is what I would like to see. I have had experience in previous inquiries. When I was in DFAT I was involved in the famous Cole inquiry into oil for food. That went on for months and months and months. The amount of documentation that was provided from various departments, including my old department, was a real lesson in how documents can make their way to inquiries. That was one thing that informed my experience in coming to this one. It showed that officers need to think about how they collate things and how they think about it. They need to look across the horizon as well—not just at their divisions or their branches or their sections or that spreadsheet or that IT system which has now been replaced by a later IT system. There is all that. It sounds bureaucratic but that is the nature of bureaucracies. We need to make it as simple as I can. As I said, there is a lot of soul-searching going on in our department about how we deal with this in future.

CHAIR: This question may have been answered in previous inquiries: why did it happen?

Mr Moraitis : I have asked myself that question a thousand times. Things happen. One way would have been to have one person in charge of the whole process and to have me say to them, 'You are personally responsible for checking every single document in the system, putting it in a folder, making sure it gets to the person at the other end and ticking it all off.' We could have had a group of people where you had one person doing that, another person making sure it was all collated and then someone overseeing it to ensure that X has gone to Y. Or do I just say 'No, I went to see hard copies of everything in one big folder with an index' and everything that was found is in that folder and I physically look at it. That is one way of doing it. Why did it happen? I wish I knew the answer.

CHAIR: You do not know how that did not—

Mr Moraitis : It is just one of those things. We have had this discussion about tab 1 and tab 2 hundreds of times.

Mr Sheehan : On the Monday, when that picture started to emerge, everyone felt the same way. Everyone was surprised about it and obviously the officers involved in this were all concerned about it. But it was human error that led to this. I think what we have put in place now will do what Mr Moraitis said. There will be checks and balances so that that would not happen.

Mr Moraitis : I did not want to give an excuse—and Senator Collins picked me up on that point—but it was a period where there was not full staffing. It was coming off a very intense period of work. That is not an excuse. That just puts it into context. If it had happened in February, March or April, when everyone is going at full bottle, everyone is at 100 per cent full steam in terms of work. It is that period between New Year, the first half of January and the end of January when people come and go, people are doing other people's work and we do the best we can.

CHAIR: Are you able to give us any examples of where you may have improved your systems or your processes so this thing does not happen again?

Mr Moraitis : Yes. As I said in the first hearing, I asked my department to look at a protocol of procedures of how you collate material that you provide for inquiries and other things. That has been done. I have had a look at it and I was pretty satisfied with it. It is now being promulgated. I raised it with all my executives. I raised it three or four weeks ago at my executive meeting with all my senior executive staff—branch heads and FASs. I have told them to acquaint themselves with it. It is on our intranet. It is there on the first page of the intranet—I have seen it. I have clicked in to see that it is there. The case now is just to ensure that I keep reminding people it is there—don't just leave it on the intranet and not use it; actually use it when you do these things. And I think there has to be a more hands-on approach from someone at a senior level who is the assigned senior officer who accounts to senior management—in my case, me as the secretary—that it has been done to their satisfaction. Short of sitting down and doing it myself—and if I have to, I will in the future do it myself.

CHAIR: I go back to that point about your availability of resources. Do you have the resources to do that?

Mr Moraitis : Do we have the resources to do it? It depends on what we have to do. If it was an inquiry like this one we have just been through—

CHAIR: No. Will you have the resources so this thing does not happen again?

Mr Moraitis : Do you mean across the department?

CHAIR: Yes, that is right.

Mr Moraitis : I think we do, we just need to prioritise. I might have to set up things like a task force when you need to do something like this, where you say, 'Okay, I need two or three people offline for three, four or five weeks, and this is their job full time,' and they report to someone senior who is doing that. If that means that an area loses two, three or four people for a period of time, so be it. That is one way of doing it. The use of task forces for high-priority issues is a normal procedure in government. It has been used for years now. The reality is resources are tight, staff numbers are tighter, and there are ongoing priorities in the day job that Ms Jones has to work on and Mr Sheehan does as well, as do all my staff. So a task force is one way to do it, where you assign a group of officers who are good at this stuff to come together and work on that as a priority 24/7.

Mr Sheehan : It might also be helpful to note that other significant assistance, as Mr Moraitis has said, was provided to the siege review. Staff went to PM&C. And it is not for me to say, but Ms Jones or PM&C might agree, we provided high-quality submissions in respect of what it was that they needed. Overall, and it may sound ironic, despite the time of year and who was there, I think, we provided good input to the review. Had we not made the error with documents then it would be a different story. But there are lessons and they are particularly important at times when you may be fatigued or short of staff, or whatever it might be.

CHAIR: That is the point I am making. If you have fatigued staff, that would indicate to me that they are doing long hours and long shifts.

Mr Moraitis : The national security division and people working with Katherine Jones in her area, and Katherine Jones herself, have worked hard over the six to seven months, certainly leading up to the New Year last year. I do not know if you recall, but from the period of June-July 2014 with the whole ISIL issue in Iraq and the development of young foreign fighters heading off, the activity ramped up exponentially. From what I have been told, coming into the department, it has been one of the biggest periods in the national security space in AGD for a long, long time. So, yes, going into that period they were pretty tired.

At the same time, I made clear to staff that I expect a good work/life balance and I have made that clear many, many times in many fora I have had with staff, in leadership teams and with my address to all staff that I value the importance of work/life balance with staff. They need to take breaks and they need to ensure that the leaders also show that that is the case as well. There are times when people work long hours—I appreciate that. I know Ms Jones makes the effort, and I do too, to make clear our philosophy as a department.

CHAIR: Are you able to provide the committee with copies of any new protocols you have put in place so this does not happen again?

Mr Moraitis : Yes, I can get you a copy of that immediately.

CHAIR: And any ideas on training of staff to make sure that this sort of thing does not happen again, it would be much appreciated.

Mr Moraitis : Yes. I have been thinking about this for the last week or two as well. Since 1 July, the Australian Government Solicitor has come into the AGD as a functional area, and I want to speak to the Australian Government Solicitor about getting his advice on how they do document searches and how they collate. Obviously, they have a lot of experience because of litigation and discovery. I am thinking about what sort of advice and training they could give to our staff as well, because they are very experienced in discovery and other processes of document retrieval. So I will be following that up as well.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: In the last batch of answers to questions on notice there were three further pieces of correspondence. Can you describe to us why they had been overlooked?

Mr Moraitis : Sorry, which were they? Could you describe which ones they were?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, bear with me for a moment while I find them.

Mr Moraitis : I will get Ms Jones to respond.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: This is dated 27 July and it is a letter to the secretary, Ms Dunstone: 'Further to its response, on 2 July the department has identified additional items of relevant correspondence. These additional items are in attachment A and R'—AGO to AGD, AGD to AGO and AGD to AGO.

Ms Jones : I have the relevant documentation. Essentially, with the sort of practice that Mr Moraitis was just trying to describe in terms of our approach to this, I had to sit down with the team that were assisting in preparing the response to the question on notice. In the context of doing a final check to ensure that we answered absolutely comprehensively, I became aware of these three additional items and felt that they needed to be provided to the committee in addition to the documents that had been provided on 2 July.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: For what reason had they previously been overlooked?

Ms Jones : In the totality of all the searches, they had been parts of chains and maybe had not been separated out. In terms of the specifics of that, I will take that on notice. It came about as a course of doing a very final check to ensure that we provided everything comprehensively to the committee and I made the decision that they should be provided.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The reason I ask, in part, is that they are all AGO related, so I was curious as to whether the earlier provision had adequately captured relevant correspondence that had been correspondence between the department and the Attorney's office. The reason, in part, I asked that is because some material we were provided with from PM&C related to their communications with the Attorney-General's office that we had not seen previously.

Mr Moraitis : PM&C to AGO?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, interesting—that is what Senator Ludwig said to me!

Mr Moraitis : Great minds think alike!

Mr Sheehan : I might ask what the document was that was PM&C to AGO. We certainly did very careful searches and those additional documents came to light in the searches, as Ms Jones said. I think we did a careful job.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Perhaps you can check with the secretariat about the precise references for those. My loose recollection was they were about the first two in the PM&C batch ahead of the 'ducking for cover' reference—interpret that as you will. I, too, like Senator Ludwig was a bit intrigued that there was correspondence going from PM&C to the AGO that had not been captured elsewhere. So, Ms Jones, if you can apprise me of the relevant factor about why they had not previously been picked up, that would be useful.

Mr Sheehan, I would like to go back to the division group get-together on 1 June. You indicated earlier that that was the point when the non-SES officer that had been involved with the AFP back in early February proffered the information that this is what had occurred in early February. Can you give us a bit more information about exactly what did transpire in early February and why it was not taken beyond, it seems, just this one non-SES officer at the time?

Mr Sheehan : My understanding from speaking with the staff that day was that one officer was going through documents that they thought might fit the request from AFP and concluded that the document that we know as the letter did not appear to have been provided. The officer then contacted the division that had been responsible—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Sorry, Mr Sheehan, I am not properly with you at the moment. So you had a request from AFP for?

Mr Sheehan : The AFP were asking about other relevant documents that they might want in respect of the coronial inquiry. The officer was looking for those documents and, in the course of that, concluded that the letter may not have been provided to the review. They then contacted the division that had provided material to the review. An officer there then called the review and said, 'We may have more correspondence.' At that point, the review said to the officer, 'We're not taking any more correspondence.' So it was not pursued any further. I understand the second officer did not actually read what the letter was.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The second officer?

Mr Sheehan : The officer who contacted the review did not actually read the letter. That was my understanding in the discussion.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. And they then failed to report the outcome of that engagement?

Mr Sheehan : Yes. They would have advised back to the first officer, but the information did not come up to the executive or, as I understand it, to anyone in the review.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So who reported back to the AFP?

Mr Sheehan : The division doing the search collated the documents that they thought were relevant and provided those documents to the AFP.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: A significant time later?

Mr Sheehan : Yes. I think that is right. Ms Jones may know more detail about that. It was sometime later, I think, yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Let us go back firstly to the initial request, as you describe it, from AFP. Wasn't it that, 'We've found this correspondence'—or someone has found this correspondence—'and has brought it to our attention. The coronial inquiry does not have it. What is the status of this correspondence?'

Mr Sheehan : I do not think that was how it occurred? I might pass to Ms Jones on that.

Ms Jones : Senator, just to be clear: the department has not yet received a formal request from the coronial inquiry for us to directly provide them with any information. I understand the AFP are appearing later today, and they will be able to take you through the process. But, essentially, New South Wales Police have a formal role in providing a brief to the coronial inquiry. They became aware of some correspondence between Mr Monis and ministers through their own inquiries. I should leave it for the AFP to explain that. They wanted to formally pass that material to the coronial inquiry and they came to us to say, 'We propose to pass this, but also we would like any other correspondence that the department has.' Initially I think they asked for all the correspondence between Monis and the Attorney-General or ministers, and they subsequently revised that to say 'Any correspondence between Monis, ministers and the department.' So we went through a process of responding to that. It was in that process that we became aware of the Monis letter not having been provided at a junior level.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Was that because the AFP would have been aware of that letter by virtue of the task force review? I am attempting to understand why the AFP came to you in early February saying, 'This letter'. That is how it appears.

Ms Jones : They came to the department to request copies—this is the AFP—and I believe they were acting in response to a request from New South Wales Police, but I should leave it for the AFP to confirm that that is the process. They made a request to us initially for correspondence between Monis and ministers and then broadened it to ask for copies of correspondence between Monis, ministers and/or the department.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: At what point in time was this?

Ms Jones : That was on 28 January.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes. You replied to that request in early March, didn't you?

Ms Jones : Documents were hand delivered on 3 March. Given the volume of the documents, it was determined that they were unable to be emailed, so arrangements were made for them to be hand-delivered.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But why did it take from 28 January to 3 March to even hand-deliver some documents?

Ms Jones : It was a process, again, as I think this committee is aware, of going through and checking the totality of the correspondence that needed to be provided—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The search was different to the search that had been done for the review?

Ms Jones : I could not speak to that specifically. I would need to take that specific point on notice.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Why did the question ever occur for this junior officer who had taken the call from the AFP to query whether the Monis letter had gone to the review? Why did this issue ever arise?

Ms Jones : I do not have a definitive answer for that. I could take it on notice.

Mr Sheehan : My understanding is that the officer was looking through the correspondence that had been provided to PM&C. There must have been a hard-copy set. That is my understanding of it. The officer was looking through it and could not see it.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Can I understand the request from the AFP this way. They have been advised by New South Wales that they have come across this correspondence when they are inquiring as to whether they can file it as evidence. They contact AGD and say, 'We've got this correspondence. We're interested in what else you might have.' A junior officer then looks at what else had been captured by the process for the review and cannot find it. Another officer then talks to the review and says, 'Hey, we've come across this other piece of correspondence,' and they say, 'Too late'—

Mr Sheehan : Called us and said, 'There's other correspondence'—yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: AGD then goes through a process of looking at all correspondence that was within the search requested from the coronial inquest and then provides that in hard copy on 3 March—

Ms Jones : Correct.

Mr Sheehan : To AFP.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: To AFP—including the 7 October Man Monis letter on this occasion.

Ms Jones : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Then the Man Monis letter was included in the batch that went to the AFP and then on to the coronial inquiry on 3 March?

Ms Jones : That is my understanding—yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The reason I want to clarify that is that I think on the earlier occasion, Ms Jones, I had asked you, 'So the letter didn't go to the review, but did it go to the coronial inquiry from AGD?' and Mr Moraitis answered for you on that occasion and said, 'Yes, it did.' But we have now had a mixture of different reports about precisely who gave it to the coronial inquiry. We have had that it went via the AGS, which perhaps you regard as AGD in answering that. We have had that it went from PM&C—

Mr Moraitis : Sorry, Senator, I was trying to be helpful. Obviously the coronial inquiry had the letter. I just did not know how it got there, to be honest. These are all developments that I have become aware of later.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Then it got there in that batch on 3 March?

Ms Jones : That is my understanding—yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: And I think there was some involvement of the AGS in terms of whether it should be filed as evidence or how, from other material we have seen.

Mr Moraitis : I think AGS is acting for the Commonwealth—obviously, for all agencies. They have a role. I do not know what role that is, exactly.

Senator LUDWIG: I was just looking at a document. It is 'F' in our appendices, on page 351, which may not help. It is from blank on Thursday, 4 June, to blank, and it then says:

I was able to track down the attached copy of the letter to former AG McClelland, copying in the PM, informing him of the—

and then blank—

Let me know if you need anything further.

I am trying to establish why you would do that. It is odd to then copy to the PM. This is the first time I have ever seen a reference in any of the material you have given to us to date where you have copied it to the PM.

Ms Jones : My understanding is that that describes the fact that the correspondence—it was correspondence to the former Attorney-General—at the time it was written, was copied to the then Prime Minister. The correspondence in question was the one that, unfortunately, I had formed the view was the 7 October—that I had mistaken—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: This is that correspondence. We asked you about the correspondence in your head—

Ms Jones : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: This is new to us.

Ms Jones : In the material that we provided, we gave you some information about that. We have not provided the actual correspondence in light of the issue about the coronial inquest and not handing over copies of full correspondence. But, in our response to the most recent batch of questions on notice, we gave a description of the nature of that letter.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: It is clearer now.

Senator LUDWIG: A couple of issues arise from that, notwithstanding that it was the correspondence. I had always formed the view that current governments cannot search back into previous governments' correspondence—particularly ministerial correspondence—and that is what this appears to be. Is that overwritten by the coronial inquiry or is that a diligent department coughing up everything?

Ms Jones : I think, based on the request that was made of all departments to contribute to the Martin Place siege review, obviously a lot of the correspondence related to several previous governments.

Senator LUDWIG: Did you contact Mr McClelland to say or to let him know that material was going forward?

Ms Jones : No, we did not.

Senator LUDWIG: Why not? I mean, that is what you would have done generally.

Ms Jones : All I can say is that if we had done that for the Martin Place siege review, given the literally hundreds of pieces of correspondence that Mr Monis undertook to the Queen, various prime ministers, the head of ASIO, the head of Qantas, we literally would have probably spent a couple of months just contacting people to see whether they would agree to their correspondence, and it was all correspondence—

Senator LUDWIG: I was not saying whether they agree—that was not part of my question. My question was: did you contact them? I did not put the colour that it was 'for agreement'.

Ms Jones : No we did not contact them.

Senator LUDWIG: Is your explanation for that that there would have been many, many, many—too numerous to contact and tell them?

Ms Jones : That is correct.

Senator LUDWIG: I take it there was a letter or correspondence that was forwarded? Is that what that email tells me?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, there was an attachment.

Senator LUDWIG: Yes: 'I was able to able to track down the attached copy of the letter to former'.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I did not get an understanding earlier about why it took so long between 28 January and 3 March. Can someone run me through why it took the amount of time involved to respond to the AFP request once they had come across the Man Monis letter.

Ms Jones : As we have discussed here in this hearing and in previous hearings, it was complex to go through to determine all the correspondence that would be relevant to the inquiry. My understanding is that, in terms of input to the coronial inquiry across a range of agencies, many agencies are still working through the provision of some material to the coronial inquiry—so it was just a matter of going through all the correspondence.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The law moves slowly. Was there something—

Mr Moraitis : I was just asking Ms Jones if the AFP had set a time line or anything that we were not meeting or something. I do not think there was.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: No. Okay. It just seemed to be a fairly lengthy period of time to respond to a request of that nature—

Mr Moraitis : Four weeks—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: but the wheels of justice do sometimes move more slowly than I would expect, so that may be correct. As Mr Moraitis referred to earlier, the Man Monis letter did not raise red flags and was characterised as relatively bland in its content comparable to other correspondence, and yet it did raise the attention of the AFP and the New South Wales police. I am cautious here because I do not want to go into—as ASIO have told us in the past as well—the national security assessment of the correspondence, but it is clear from the AFP raising it with you that they did think the correspondence was germane.

Ms Jones : I think I would leave that to the AFP to answer that question. They were aware of the letter, they approached us and then they asked for other correspondence that would be relevant, which we provided by 3 March. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to talk to their assessment of the material.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. As you said, I will have the opportunity to talk to them later. The other issue I will be raising with them is the email that was provided to us, which raised some issues around how the—bear with me for a moment and I will find that piece.

Senator LUDWIG: Do you have any direct contact with the AFP?

Ms Jones : Me, personally?

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

Ms Jones : No. Sorry, I should clarify, in the context. I have very regular contact with the AFP on a range of matters.

Senator LUDWIG: The record sometimes will not show that but, yes, that was the purpose of the question.

Mr Moraitis : Senator, is there any chance of a five or 10 minute break?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: That might be a good idea.

Senator LUDWIG: That might be easier, anyway.

Mr Moraitis : Thank you.

CHAIR: I will suspend the hearing.

Proceedings suspended from 10:37 to 10:50

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: There was only one other area that I wanted to visit with AGD, which I will be taking up with AFP as well. Ms Jones, it is the correspondence that we were provided with in one of the AGD batches from the AFP. Do you have the booklet that I can reference?

Ms Jones : I do not think we have the same booklet as you.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: What was the date again? I think 2 July was when the batch was provided.

CHAIR: What page are you on?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am on page 238. I think this communication was in the context of finalising the Attorney's letter to the committee in relation to the Man Monis letter. One element of that process—

Ms Jones : Sorry, Senator: the correspondence was in the batch that we provided to this committee. What is the date of the actual correspondence?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The AFP correspondence itself was on 3 June. I think the context of it was AGD liaising with AFP about the content of the Attorney's letter to the Senate committee—to us.

Mr Moraitis : Is it an email?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, it is an email. Have you found it?

Ms Jones : I believe I have found the email chain, yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: It looks like a series. It is an email trail.

Ms Jones : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: There are two elements to this, I suppose. One is at 2.55:

I will obtain instructions in respect of the warrant issue.

Do you know what that relates to?

Ms Jones : I do not think I should speculate.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Would you prefer that we ask—

Ms Jones : It is best directed at the AFP.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: That is fine. The other was in relation to the 2.49 pm element. The second paragraph says:

On 28 January … the … (AFP) notified the department that,—

redacted—

while making inquiries, it had come into possession of a letter from Sheikh Haron addressed to the Attorney-General dated 7 October … seeking legal advice and the Department's reply on the Attorney-General's behalf dated 5 November …

As noted, we consider it likely that if a bland formulation of words is used, we will subsequently be asked how the AFP came into possession of the letter.'

I am trying to understand why this issue is being considered. Was an alternative form of words considered?

Ms Jones : It relates to the nature of the activities the AFP might have taken to become aware or come into possession. It relates to their investigative process. I think the department was just being appropriately cautious in terms of how it would describe that. I think it would be a matter for the AFP to describe that.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: This is an officer in your division saying: 'We consider it likely that if we use a bland formulation of words we will be asked how the AFP came into possession of the letter.' The Attorney's letter ended up describing in a bland way, so I am assuming that the risk or concern that they might be asked about how they had come across the letter was discounted or—

Ms Jones : I think the formulation used would have reflected the preference of the AFP as to how that would be described, recognising that it would be public on the committee's website. It was in a sense their preference as to how their operational activity should be described.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So it was fleshing out with them that you were not crossing over any operational elements in that process.

Ms Jones : Correct.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I suppose it partly entertained me, how often you contemplate bland formulations of words!

Senator LUDWIG: I could answer that!

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You could, Senator Ludwig! Chair, I have finished my questions, thank you.

Senator LUDWIG: I want to follow up with something that I think I dealt with in another hearing, which may not have ended up on transcript, because it was an in camera hearing, so I should not refer to that. But I want to at least canvass this with you, is the way events transpired. And this is important to both what I think are the Public Service values and the way the Senate operates. When we have a hearing like this the chair reads out a statement in the beginning, and I know we all glaze over at that point, but it is a very important statement that he reads, because what we expect from public servants is honesty and integrity and forthright answers to questions. We always understand that if we do not get it right—if we do not ask a specific question—we do not get an answer. I understand that, but in this instance it seems that the nub of the matter was that you thought it was best to have a review before you corrected the record, as I understand the chain of events. My view is different from that. My view—and I think that of most senators—would be that as soon as you discover that there is an error on the record then it is best to correct it immediately by letter to the secretary or chair, or if you are on transcript at that particular point in time. It does not mean that you have to know what the answer is. The correction could be to the extent of saying, 'That evidence I gave at that particular time I now know to be incorrect. I do not know what the correct answer is, because we will have to investigate it,' take it on notice and get back to us accordingly. That then tells everybody that there was an error, we do not know what the correction is but we know the correction will come. That, in itself, during a period when there was significant public interest in that, may have alleviated it, at least to the extent of the hearings we have now had. It also may have alleviated the issue of us now becoming completely aware that all correspondence from 2010 was not provided. You could have kept that one to yourself.

Mr Sheehan : We did not intend to.

Senator LUDWIG: As the secretary, it still would have been germane to you for your investigation. Then you could have subsequently come back to the committee and said: 'We have now had the investigation, which we promised. The investigation revealed X. We correct the record accordingly,' and no more is said. It saves everybody a lot of time and effort. But I know that you did not take that course; you took the alternate course, which was to say, 'I'm not going to answer the question until such time as I know the full facts'. You might never know the full facts. The full facts may not become clear, and then, ultimately, any subsequent correction of the record looks untidy, it looks delayed and, in this instance, it looked like a cover-up. You can comment to the extent that you want in respect of that, but I thought it was important that I put that on the record for public servants more broadly.

Mr Moraitis : Thank you, Senator; I appreciate it. I am not aware of what you are talking about in terms of in camera discussions. I do not think we have had any in camera discussions.

Senator LUDWIG: Not us, no; I am not allowed to refer to them.

Mr Moraitis : I see. I appreciate that. To be honest with you, personally I did not realise that you could half correct the record. My view would be that the record should be corrected absolutely. That has always been my understanding, so that is a good clarification for me.

Senator LUDWIG: The issue is that you knew at least by the Monday that there was an error. What you had told the committee was not correct, so that is the correction: 'What I have said is not correct. I don't know the true answer to your question. That is a separate question.'

Mr Moraitis : During the course of the Monday I was certainly focused on ensuring that the record would be corrected. The more information I got during the course of that day made me question what correction we would make. That is what I have been trying to say. I was sincerely and honestly and genuinely concerned about what correction we would make. You have clarified this for me—to be honest, I should have known this but I did not—that I can put on notice a correction to say, 'We're not sure about the answer we gave last week, but we're following it up'. That is a correction. That would have been a good course of action too, I gather.

Senator LUDWIG: It is a clarification however you want to make it.

Mr Moraitis : I appreciate that.

Senator LUDWIG: It keeps the committee informed so that we do not take it away—what we will do is take it away, think about what was said and piece it all together. And we very quickly came to the view that it looked like a cover-up was going on.

Mr Moraitis : I have thought for weeks now about the judgement call I made as a secretary and, in my defence, I had to make a judgement call, and I was not persuaded that we were in a position to answer the question, to correct the record accurately to say that the letter was never received. That was my genuine fear. As I said before, my first objective was to correct the record correctly, once and for all, and then, to be frank with you, it was to avoid another mistake by the department that we did not correct the record. If we could just have had a qualified correction, like you suggested, and say: 'Ms Jones said this. She cannot recollect now whether that was the letter she saw; it might have been another letter, but we do not know. In retrospect, we take that on notice', I would have appreciated that.

Senator LUDWIG: But that is what you do in estimates all the time. I have seen many officers give an answer, and they will then pause and say: 'I'm not sure about that now that you have asked that and I've had a bit of time to think about it. I will take it on notice and check.' They do that constantly—sometimes more constantly than what I want, but they do that in a running sense. People have imperfect memories.

Mr Moraitis : I am sincerely sorry if that was the case, if I could have used that course of action. My desire was to ensure that the department, through Ms Jones, were as accurate as they could be because, frankly, up to that stage, with what I had been told and what had happened in the previous few months, it was quite astounding, to be honest.

Senator LUDWIG: But you can see what happens though. In that instance, the delay can sometimes look like a cover-up because it then escaped the four days of parliamentary scrutiny—

Mr Moraitis : I fully appreciate that now.

Senator LUDWIG: and then what happens is that everyone assumes the worst—good or bad. They then believe that there was in fact a delay that was a cover-up, and, as a consequence, people then think that it was a deliberate act. All of that leads everybody to that conclusion. People should not jump to conclusions, but they do as a consequence. Whereas, if it had been stated earlier, 'We think it is wrong. We're not sure what the actual position is; we'll go and check'—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: And, 'These are the facts that we had established by 12.15 on the Monday.'

Senator LUDWIG: Yes; and, 'Here are the facts that we know'—and then list (a), (b), (c) and (d)—'but we will check further.'

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: The difficulty, Mr Moraitis, is that the PPQ of the Monday says quite unequivocally that the review had not received the letter.

Mr Moraitis : I was not aware of that.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I will read the quote:

AGD never provided the Monis/Brandis letter to the Martin Place review team … the team was never aware of the existence of the letter.

That is the PPQ.

Mr Moraitis : From? It was not A-G's. Is that a PM&C document, Senator?

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Yes.

Mr Moraitis : I was not aware of that. The information I had before me was what I have described. Ms Jones wanted to say something about this. I really appreciate, Senator, your clarification and explanation of what should be the best practice—I really do—but I am trying to explain where I was and the judgement call I made. It has been almost two months now since that day, and I have thought about it many, many times. To be honest with you, if I were in that position again on that Monday afternoon with the facts I had, not knowing what I know now about all this, in retrospect—

Senator LUDWIG: But when you put it together, though, you were able to tell the Attorney-General at 1.54 pm, which was the Chidgey to AGO email. So you go to the Attorney-General and say, 'Here's the explanation. I'm not sure, and as a consequence we should do a review.' That same piece of information would have been helpful to the committee at the same time.

Mr Sheehan : I did not write it. That email came out of a discussion I had with officers. So I am ultimately responsible for it, and I would note that it is not a particularly well-written email—with no criticism of the officer involved—and we felt afterwards that we should produce something based on the revelations. But I think in part it was explaining this to Mr Moraitis that had him saying, 'Hang on; there are a lot of unanswered questions in all of that.' So we probably could have been a lot more judicious at that time in terms of what we said.

Senator LUDWIG: Although it becomes speculative I think I would have done this, if someone had come to me as a minister at 1.54 and said, 'This is the issue,' I would have looked at the transcript and thought what I said, 'Not correct,' and usually either before question time, if I thought I might get a question on it, or after question time on that particular day I would have got up and said, 'What I said on the previous day was incorrect; I will correct the record with X,' if I know the answer, or 'I will provide an explanation as to where we are up to'—that is, 'I am not sure of the answer now, unfortunately, and I will get back to you with an investigation.'

Let me tell you, it is not a very easy thing for a minister to do, and you try to avoid that like the plague. But, ultimately, it is your responsibility to parliament. That is why we are doing all of what we are doing now—because of the responsibility to parliament. Errors occur, and we do not gavel with that at all. Quite frankly, everyone makes mistakes.

Mr Moraitis : I think Ms Jones wanted to say something.

Ms Jones : I would just add that, ultimately, I take responsibility for the initial evidence that I provided that was incorrect and the formal correction of that evidence to the secretary of this committee. Similar to Mr Moraitis, I take on board your advice about how we might have done that correction in a two-step way. But the issue that informed my judgement in terms of what we needed to know before I could correct the record was the fact that I did not say in my evidence that AGD provided the letter; I said the letter had been provided to the review. So it was a slightly broader statement that needed to be corrected.

I take on board your views about how we might have approached it differently, but that was our genuinely held view and our assessment of why we needed to go through the process to correct the record. I take ultimate responsibility for the initial evidence and then the timing of the correction of that evidence. That was my responsibility, in terms of reaching a point where I felt that I could make that correction.

Senator LUDWIG: What we are trying to avoid in all of this is where it looks like a cover-up. It is as simple as that. It may not have been in your mind, at the time, but what was clear was that there was heavy media speculation going all week and then by Thursday afternoon the foreign affairs minister, Ms Bishop, gets up after question time and corrects the record. It leads me to one conclusion and one conclusion only. As we now know, there was a lot more to it, but that is what you assume. Anyway, be that as it may.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Aside from that, your earlier point, Senator Ludwig, is that we have now established that the pertinent facts were known on that Monday morning. You may describe the AGD email as not well framed or well written, but it includes what were the pertinent facts that did not change. I looked at that email and I said, 'I do not understand why Mr Moraitis was confused. The pertinent facts are here.' You might have been concerned or alarmed or confused about how it came to be, but what was, was pretty clear in that email.

Mr Moraitis : I can say I was genuinely concerned that we did not have the full picture, even knowing from what Mr Sheehan told me about the tab 2, about the index not having it on the list, it was not sent in the first batch, this reference to a 2 February discussion of junior officers, which no-one knew anything about until that day—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: That Monday morning.

Mr Moraitis : That Monday. It was brought to my attention on the Monday. I was left in a situation where I had to make a judgement call. And I made that judgement call. As I said, I thought about it a thousand times. If I were in that position again, I would probably make that judgement call the same way. Taking into account what Senator Ludwig said about qualified corrections, knowing that now, I could well do it that way as well. I appreciate the impression that it led to and I apologise for that.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Some of it, Mr Moraitis, is not necessarily yours to apologise for. The situation you were left in was also related to the politicisation of the issue. It was not your responsibility that the foreign affairs minister went into the House and behaved the way she did with incorrect information. Had you been briefed up on what had happened in February maybe it could have been corrected before then, but that is highly unlikely. But more than a week's delay between when the evidence was provided and it subsequently coming to the committee is, I think, the space that we are in now.

Mr Moraitis : Thank you, Senator.

CHAIR: I would like to thank the witnesses for coming along and answering our questions. You are free to go now.