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Environment and Communications Legislation Committee


In Attendance

Senator Fifield, Minister for the Arts, Minister for Communications

Department of Communications and the Arts

Programme 1.1

Dr Heather Smith PSM, Secretary

Mr Ian Robinson, Deputy Secretary, Infrastructure and Consumer Group

Mr Richard Eccles, Deputy Secretary, Content, Arts and Strategy

Ms Jo Talbot, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate

Ms Mary Balzary, First Assistant Secretary, Infrastructure

Ms Pauline Sullivan, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Consumer

Dr Carolyn Patteson, First Assistant Secretary, Content Division

Mr Richard Windeyer, First Assistant Secretary, Strategy and Projects

Ms Leonie Holloway, Chief Economist

Mr Chris Faris, Assistant Secretary, Post and ACMA

Ms Sylvia Spaseski, Assistant Secretary, Consumer

Ms Kathleen Silleri, Assistant Secretary, Public Interest and NBN Migration

Ms Sarah Godden, General Counsel

Ms Cathy Rainsford, Assistant Secretary, Media Branch

Ms Helen Owens, Assistant Secretary, Content and Copyright Branch

Mr Lachlann Paterson, Assistant Secretary, Regional Deployment

Mr Philip Mason, Assistant Secretary, Market Structure Branch

Mr Andrew Madsen, Assistant Secretary, Broadband Implementation Branch

Ms Kate Feros, Acting Assistant Secretary, Spectrum

Mr Jason Ashurst, Acting Assistant Secretary, Infrastructure Security and Resilience

Programme 2.1

Ms Sally Basser, First Assistant Secretary

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Ms Michelle Guthrie, Managing Director

Mr Michael Millett, Director Corporate Affairs

Mr Alan Sunderland, Editorial Director

Mr David Pendleton, Chief Operating Officer

Australia Council

Mr Tim Blackwell, Executive Director Corporate Resources

Ms Lissa Twomey, Executive Director MPA and National Engagement

Australian Communications and Media Authority

Mr Richard Bean, Acting Chair

Mr James Cameron, Acting Deputy Chair

Ms Linda Caruso, Acting General Manager, Legal Services

Ms Jennifer McNeill, General Manager, Content, Consumer and Citizen Division

Mr Giles Tanner, General Manager, Communications Infrastructure Division

Mr Christopher Hose, Executive Manager, Spectrum Planning and Engineering Branch

Mr Alastair Gellatly, Manager, Broadcast Spectrum Planning Section

Australian Postal Corporation

Mr John Stanhope AM, Chairman

Mr Ahmed Fahour, Managing Director and Group Chief Executive Officer

Ms Christine Corbett, Chief Customer Officer

Mr Peter Bass, Executive General Manager, Letters and Mail Network

Mr Chris Blake, Executive General Manager, Group Services

Ms Erin Kelly, Corporate Secretary

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Ms Meg Labrum, Acting Chief Executive Officer

Ms Denise Cardew-Hall, Chief Financial Officer

National Library of Australia

Ms Anne-Marie Schwirtlich AM, Director-General

Mr Gerry Linehan, Assistant Director-General, Corporate Services

NBN Co Ltd

Mr Bill Morrow, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Stephen Rue, Chief Financial Officer

Mr Peter Ryan, Chief Network Engineering Officer

Mr John Simon, Chief Customer Officer

Office of the Children's eSafety Commissioner

Ms Julie Inman-Grant, Commissioner

Ms Andree Wright, Executive Director

Mr Stuart Wise, Business Manager

Ms Julia Cornwell McKean, Manager

Screen Australia

Mr Graeme Mason, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Fiona Cameron, Chief Operating Officer

Special Broadcasting Service

Mr Michael Ebeid, Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer

Ms Clare O'Neil, Director, Corporate Affairs

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Senator Reynolds ): I declare opening this meeting of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee. The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of proposed additional expenditure for 2016-2017 and other related documents for the portfolios of environment, energy, communications and the arts. The committee has fixed Friday 28 April 2017 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. Under standing order 26 the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. Officers and senators are familiar with the rules of the Senate governing estimates hearings. The Senate has also resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth 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 the minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses today to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

(a) notes that ministers and officers have continued to refuse to provide information to Senate committees without properly raising claims of public interest immunity as required by past resolutions of the Senate;

(b) reaffirms the principles of past resolutions of the Senate by this order, to provide ministers and officers with guidance as to the proper process for raising public interest immunity claims and to consolidate those past resolutions of the Senate;

(c) orders that the following operate as an order of continuing effect:

(1) If:

   (a) a Senate committee, or a senator in the course of proceedings of a committee, requests information or a document from a Commonwealth department or agency; and

   (b) an officer of the department or agency to whom the request is directed believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the officer shall state to the committee the ground on which the officer believes that it may not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, and specify the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(2) If, after receiving the officer’s statement under paragraph (1), the committee or the senator requests the officer to refer the question of the disclosure of the information or document to a responsible minister, the officer shall refer that question to the minister.

(3) If a minister, on a reference by an officer under paragraph (2), concludes that it would not be in the public interest to disclose the information or document to the committee, the minister shall provide to the committee a statement of the ground for that conclusion, specifying the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document.

(4) A minister, in a statement under paragraph (3), shall indicate whether the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee could result only from the publication of the information or document by the committee, or could result, equally or in part, from the disclosure of the information or document to the committee as in camera evidence.

(5) If, after considering a statement by a minister provided under paragraph (3), the committee concludes that the statement does not sufficiently justify the withholding of the information or document from the committee, the committee shall report the matter to the Senate.

(6) A decision by a committee not to report a matter to the Senate under paragraph (5) does not prevent a senator from raising the matter in the Senate in accordance with other procedures of the Senate.

(7) A statement that information or a document is not published, or is confidential, or consists of advice to, or internal deliberations of, government, in the absence of specification of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or document, is not a statement that meets the requirements of paragraph (1) or (4).

(8) If a minister concludes that a statement under paragraph (3) should more appropriately be made by the head of an agency, by reason of the independence of that agency from ministerial direction or control, the minister shall inform the committee of that conclusion and the reason for that conclusion, and shall refer the matter to the head of the agency, who shall then be required to provide a statement in accordance with paragraph (3).

(d) requires the Procedure Committee to review the operation of this order and report to the Senate by 20 August 2009.

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)

Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order; witnesses are instead required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document.

There are a couple of things that I as chair would like to raise before we begin. I need to let the secretary, the minister and the department know that we have intense interest today from many senators in the first three agenda items: general questions of the department, Australia Post and the ABC. Under the standing orders senators have the right to ask questions until we have no more questions. I will of course honour that, but first of all I would ask that departmental officers make their answers as concise as possible. That would be much appreciated to facilitate the process. I would also ask of senators participating here today, given there are a number of issues to be discussed that are highly emotive for a lot of senators and communities, that we endeavour to keep the temperature down and focus on the issues, not on individuals, during the course of today.