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STANDING COMMITTEE ON RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT
24/02/2009
INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT PORTFOLIO
Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government

CHAIR —Minister, do you or Mr Taylor wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Conroy —I think Mr Taylor has an opening statement.

Mr Taylor —With the senators’ permission, I would like to make a short opening statement which will set the context for today. This will assist in the questions that senators will put to our department in the course of the day. A key part of that context is some of the changes we have made to the leadership of the organisation. We have recently appointed two new deputy secretaries—Ms Lyn O’Connell, who joined us from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and Ms Stephanie Foster, who joined us from the Department of Defence—to fill the two vacant deputy secretary positions. Further, in responding to recent initiatives by the government and their priorities in respect of nation building, infrastructure, Northern Australia, local government and regional development, we have recently made a number of adjustments to the structure of our organisation to ensure it is well placed to deliver the government’s agenda while maintaining our focus on our core business. Importantly, we have brought all the elements that relate to the nation building initiatives of the government under one set of frameworks, bringing together infrastructure and investment, surface transport policy and the work of the National Transport Strategy. Deputy Secretary Lyn O’Connell leads that group.

We have also brought all the aviation and security considerations together under Deputy Secretary Andrew Tongue. Finally, we have clearly identified and separated out the roles of the Office of Northern Australia, and the responsibilities of local government and regional development. They now sit under the leadership of Deputy Secretary Stephanie Foster. Chair, with your permission I would like to table a copy of that structure.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Taylor.

Mr Taylor —On 5 February this year, the infrastructure portfolio supplementary additional estimates were tabled. These statements included four new measures relating to the government’s Nation Building and Jobs Plan and, over the next two years—2008-09 and 2009-10—in respect of our portfolio, the measures provide for some $500 million for local community infrastructure, $150 million for maintenance of national highways, $150 million for the installation of new boom gates at high-risk rail crossings and $90 million for the road safety Black Spot Program.

I would like now to turn to the work of each of the divisions—which will set the context for the hearings that take place in the course of today. In the case of the nation-building and infrastructure investment division group, we have been working very actively to implement what is a major government program in respect of infrastructure. As we know, the government announced as part of the 2008 budget that it would make an early start on 45 of its election commitments, and seven of these projects have now been given additional funding in the nation-building program. This has accelerated a raft of existing programs and, importantly, $3.8 billion has been provided all up for land transport infrastructure in 2008-09. This is an increase from the 2007-08 period.

On 12 December the government also announced a $1.2 billion funding injection into the Australian Rail Track Corporation for 17 rail projects and the bringing forward of $711 million funding to accelerate 14 other road projects. The government is currently working with states and territories and the ARTC to implement these announcements. Funding for the Black Spot Program is worth drawing attention to. It is now $145 million, up from $37 million in 2007-08. In addition, funding for the Roads to Recovery program has increased from $262 million to $356 million this year. Importantly, the memorandums of understanding covering land transport infrastructure projects for the period 2008-09 to 2013-14 have been actually communicated to state and territory governments, and the department is currently working with those states and territories to finalise the memorandums of understanding to facilitate the longer term program. Finally in this area, the department is actively implementing the $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. The minister has written to his state counterparts and we have an extensive range of projects being developed. It is expected that $10 million will be expended out of that program this financial year.

In the infrastructure and surface transport policy area we have been taking major initiatives to put in place a single national approach to maritime safety regulation in Australia. This has been undertaken under the banner of the government’s National Transport Policy. The work has been endorsed by all states and is proceeding on to a regulatory impact statement which will be presented to the Council of Australian Governments later this year. In addition, the department is also working with the government agencies and industry stakeholders to implement issues arising from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government report into coastal shipping, and we expect that response to be framed in the course of this year.

We have also taken a very proactive role in the development of international regulation in respect of both the vehicle industry and the maritime sector to ensure consistency in Australia with international regulatory measures. This also covers work in the maritime emissions area. Also, we are completing in the course of this year a review of the National Transport Commission, as is required in the framework of legislation that established it. The department is providing secretariat services and a three-person panel established to undertake this review.

Importantly, in respect of the National Transport Strategy and in addition to the work on maritime safety regulation, good progress is being made with Regulatory Impact Statements for having singular frameworks for both rail safety regulation and heavy vehicle regulation, including registration and licensing. The Australian Transport Council will deliberate on these matters in May and, importantly, will report to the Council of Australian Governments later in order to progress that national uniformity. As well, Commonwealth and state ministers have agreed on a draft arrangement to underpin the operations of a National Road Safety Council. The draft agreement is being presented to the Council of Australian Governments in the first half of 2009. Subject to its endorsement, we will work with the Minister to establish that council and to provide ongoing administrative and secretariat support.

In the area of aviation and airports, we have brought forward a major piece of work, the first ever comprehensive national aviation policy statement, or aviation white paper, to guide the industry’s growth over the next decade. The first step in that process was completed on 2 December 2008, when the aviation green paper was launched by the minister. Detailed consultation is taking place with industry in respect of that, and submission and comments on the green paper for proposed policy initiatives closes on 27 February 2009. Following that, there will be a second round of consultation, and the government expects to finalise the white paper in late 2009.

In the area of the Office of Transport Security, a comprehensive range of aviation security issues have been brought forward as a result of the aviation green paper, including the issues of costs of security, how security might be enhanced for the air cargo chain, improvements with respect to passenger screening, and also industry aviation security training needs. We have also worked extensively internationally, in terms of both multilateral institutions and influential international partners, to ensure we work with them collectively to shape preventive security agendas and measures that are used on a global basis. Work is also being undertaken in respect of last-port-of-call airport security assessments. I emphasise our continued commitment to consult with stakeholders and to ensure enhanced communications with the relevant parties.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau continues to focus a significant proportion of its resources on investigations that are likely to deliver the greatest safety benefits and to ensure that any critical safety issues are identified so as to encourage relevant safety action to be taken promptly. We know the ATSB is progressing two very complex accident investigations involving Qantas aircraft. The ATSB has put together a multidisciplinary team comprising its own members and international experts, and interim factual reports for both investigations are currently being finalised and are scheduled to be released later this month.

At the request of the Queensland government, the ATSB is also chairing two separate independent investigations into two recent fatal level crossing collisions between trucks and scheduled passenger train services. We continue to build the partnership with the Indonesian government in respect of the Australian government’s Indonesian Transport Safety Assistance Package, which has made good progress. The ATSB also recently deployed to Indonesia a senior marine safety investigator to provide assistance in the investigation of the capsizing of an interisland ferry during bad weather. Following the release of the aviation green paper on 2 December 2008, the ATSB is also working with the department to facilitate its transition to a separate statutory agency with a commission based structure as from 1 July 2009.

In the case of local government, for the Australian government we facilitated the Australian Council of Local Government meeting which was held here in Parliament House on 18 November 2008. It was a meeting to which all Australian mayors and shire presidents were invited. Importantly, at that meeting the Prime Minister announced a funding initiative for the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program of some $300 million, $50 million of which was for competitive strategic projects and another $250 million which was allocated amongst local governments according to criteria announced at the time of the meeting. Implementation of the $250 million Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program is currently underway.

Additionally, on 13 February 2009 the government announced an additional $500 million for the Local Community Infrastructure Program relating to strategic projects. Councils have until 6 March to submit a new or revised application under this program. Further, the government has announced a centre of excellence for local government at a major Australian university or universities. This was announced by the Prime Minister at the meeting in December and arrangements are currently underway to implement this initiative.

As well, the department has continued to provide advice to the government on the establishment of the Regional Development Australia network which replaced the area consultative committee arrangements from 1 January 2009. This process has included negotiations with all states and territories about closer relationships with Regional Development Australia and their own state regional development networks.

The Office of Northern Australia has taken on an independent part within our department, as I described earlier. Importantly, as part of the nation-building initiative on 12 December 2008, the Prime Minister announced that the government would contribute up to $195 million towards an East Kimberley development package. This contribution is to be matched by the Western Australian government. The Commonwealth contribution is conditional on a joint assessment by the Commonwealth and Western Australian governments on the most effective infrastructure investments to meet the social and economic development needs of the region, and the department is working closely with the Hon. Gary Gray MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia, to implement this initiative.

Finally, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics continues to undertake work to underpin the department’s delivery against the government’s key priorities for the portfolio. In particular, the research program is aimed at helping to develop policy for infrastructure, cities, transport reform, local government and regional development. The bureau also leads Australia’s engagement with the International Transport Forum, a policy forum that covers ministers from some 51 countries. Australia will cochair the development of the 2009 forum, with the theme ‘Transport for a global economy: new challenges and opportunities’.

I hope that these comments will assist you in your inquiries in the course of today. We look forward to addressing the questions you raise with us. Thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you. Could you table that, please, Mr Taylor. Before we go to questions we have some time issues surrounding the witnesses today, so I urge all senators to be mindful and see if we can stay on track.

Senator BERNARDI —Mr Taylor, I will address my questions to you because they are general departmental questions but you may like to refer them to other people. How has your agency implemented the one-off two per cent efficiency dividend?

Mr Taylor —The efficiency dividend has long been an issue that our department has continued to address by the way we implement technology, so we put a great investment into our information and technology end. We look at how we can improve the way we undertake the delivery of any of our programs or operational work, and we also make choices about things that are of higher priority than lower priority. We have effectively done that in both the 2007-08 and the 2008-09 years. We expect to come in on our budget commitments as described in the statements before the Senate.

Senator BERNARDI —You have identified technology, priorities and more efficiency in delivering programs as delivering savings to you. Specifically, can you tell me what cuts have been made in what areas?

Mr Taylor —As is probably clear, the changes that took place as of December 2007 meant that we put a very strong focus on implementing the new government’s program, and accordingly we assigned resources to the priorities of the new government’s program. We also made sure we assigned people and skills in the way we went about it. We allow natural attrition, if it involves reductions in numbers, to address that issue, but that is a process that has been carried out quite efficiently and seamlessly. The only area where we made any specific reductions—and I will have Mr Banham comment on that—was Regional Partnerships, which was part of last year’s budget.

Senator BERNARDI —So the reduction in Regional Partnerships was because of the budget last year?

Mr Taylor —Yes, it was a formal budget initiative. It was made quite clear, and we responded accordingly.

Senator BERNARDI —Apart from that, have you had to reduce any core activities?

Mr Taylor —No. Fairly obviously, from the discussion that I have described, we have actually broadened the level of the framework. We have taken up the Office of Northern Australia. So we have reassigned resources but not reduced any activity. Importantly, in respect of the nation-building activity, we have put a very marked emphasis on the issues associated with infrastructure and a very strong emphasis on the cities program, which is starting to evolve. I have already outlined the major undertaking to broaden the department’s commitment to local government. We have done that all quite consciously by reassigning resources. We have not actually had to cut out anything that was core and fundamental to our organisation.

Senator BERNARDI —How do you actually measure service standards?

Mr Taylor —In a practical sense, much of our department is related to policy advice and program development, and then the delivery of those programs through the states. The infrastructure programs in particular are delivered in conjunction with state governments. Not only do they get funding for the programs but that of course allows them the funding to oversight them. We do not actually deliver them directly. So, much of what I would say about infrastructure relates to services that ultimately are delivered by states and territories.

I am going to do the same thing again with local government. We are in the business of putting together those programs but then transferring the money. For much of our work the service delivery actually takes place through government programs being announced and funds deployed and then the programs being carried out by other parties. I cannot say that we have yet set in train the monitoring of the service delivery of those programs, but we intend to. Certainly, on infrastructure we have long had reports coming back from states about service delivery. I am happy to have my colleagues deal with each of those because, as you can imagine, across the plethora we have a quite different set of reporting arrangements by group. Much of it is about how projects are actually being implemented.

Senator BERNARDI —You said that you receive reports from the states about the services?

Mr Taylor —For instance, when we undertake work with road-building programs we get reports back on how those programs are progressing. I am happy to have those teased out. Most sensibly I would like to do it within their nation building and infrastructure investment section, which will come a bit later.

Senator BERNARDI —I am happy to go to that. Have staff numbers been reduced as a result of the efficiency dividend or any other budget changes?

Mr Taylor —Yes. I will get David to reflect on the precise numbers.

Mr Banham —Our staffing number as of 31 December was 1,249. That is actually an increase since the last hearing. We have had some increases in some measures outside of the regional offices. The total number of staff from regional offices, which we reduced, is around 32.

Senator BERNARDI —Let me just clarify that: the total number of staff in regional offices has been reduced by 32; is that correct?

Mr Banham —As of 31 December it is 21 that we have reduced in the regional offices.

Senator BERNARDI —So 21 as at 31 December, yet overall staff levels have been increased to 1,249.

Mr Banham —That is correct.

Senator BERNARDI —That is an increase of how many?

Mr Banham —Thirty-two.

Senator BERNARDI —Where have those increases of 32 staff occurred?

Mr Banham —Eighteen of them were in the Office of the Infrastructure Coordinator, which is Infrastructure Australia, established last year. Fifteen were in Infrastructure investment and 13 were in the Office of Transport Security.

Senator BERNARDI —That is more than 32.

Mr Banham —It is the net of the 21.

Senator BERNARDI —Net of the 21; okay. Are you able to tell me what level these positions are?

Mr Banham —The additions?

Senator BERNARDI —Yes.

Mr Banham —No. I would need to take that on notice.

Senator BERNARDI —If you wouldn’t mind, that would be terrific; thank you. Are there any further plans for staff reductions?

Mr Banham —There are no plans at this moment. We will need to see the outcome of the budget. We also have a number of staff who are on a retention process from the closure of those offices. They will also be leaving the department when we find alternate employment for them.

Senator BERNARDI —Do you have a formal process for planned graduate recruitment or identification of potential additional staff?

Mr Banham —For recruitment of graduates?

Senator BERNARDI —Yes.

Mr Banham —Yes. We have a formal graduate recruitment program every year.

Senator BERNARDI —Just briefly, how does that operate?

Mr Banham —I will need to get the full details to you.

Senator BERNARDI —That would be fine, and can you include other similar programs, whether they are related to cadetships or interns, or however you might like to describe them, not just graduate recruitment.

Mr Banham —Essentially, we go to a number of recruitment fairs. We go around the country to the areas we want to target, explaining the benefits of the department. We then go through a general advertising process. We would normally use an external company to assist us there. They will shortlist. We will continue that process and eventually we will interview the graduates and make offers.

Senator BERNARDI —I would presume that you retain records about your retention and turnover rates of staff.

Mr Banham —Yes; we do.

Senator BERNARDI —Do you have those records available or are you able to recollect them off the top of your head?

Mr Banham —No. I would need to take that on notice, but we should be able to get back to you today.

Senator BERNARDI —That would be good. Specifically, I am interested in the relative ratio of turnover or staff retention over the last three or four years.

Mr Banham —We will be able to get that.

Senator BERNARDI —If you can do that, that would be terrific. Whilst there have been some additions in staffing, has there been any change in consultancy expenditure since we last met? I am not sure whether questions were asked in this regard at the last estimates.

Mr Banham —At this moment, up to about the beginning of this month, I would say that we are tracking very similarly to last year in terms of consultancy.

Senator BERNARDI —Could you give me that figure, please?

CHAIR —Do you have many more questions?

Senator BERNARDI —I have. They are just standard ones but there are quite a few.

CHAIR —We might put them on notice because we are allowed only until 9.30 am.

Senator BERNARDI —I have been given a range of questions so I will put them on notice.

Mr Banham —As of 20 February, our consultancies, as per AusTender was $4,157,570.

Senator BERNARDI —I have just been advised by the Chair that we have limited time. There is one minute left.

CHAIR —You can go further but it comes off somewhere else.

Senator BERNARDI —I understand that, but we had about a 20-minute opening statement, which eats into the option to ask questions.

CHAIR —I must admit it was a good opening statement.

Senator BERNARDI —It might have been comprehensive, but—

Senator McGAURAN —What is our time on this?

CHAIR —We had allowed until 9.30 am. I am happy for it to go further but I will just let the other senators know that it will encroach somewhere else.

Senator McGAURAN —I see the pattern that when you have the corporate section here and the chiefs, if you like, they answer a wide range of questions. It is often more important to extend our time with them than perhaps later on.

CHAIR —I have no drama with that.

Senator McGAURAN —I suggest that we continue with this section today. They answer the broad section.

Senator BERNARDI —Fine advice.

CHAIR —Do you see the collegiate style we have on this committee?

Senator BERNARDI —I do see that and I will not compromise it for you, Chair. So $4, 157,000 was spent on consultancies?

Mr Banham —That is correct.

Senator BERNARDI —In the past 12 months?

Mr Banham —From 1 July to 20 February.

Senator BERNARDI —Do you have appropriate figures, such as annual figures, for the preceding years available now? I am happy if you want to take that on notice and provide them to us in a timely fashion.

Mr Wood —It is disclosed on page 256 of our annual report. Our expenditure on consultancies for 2007-08  was $6.3 million.

Senator BERNARDI —The government has recently introduced new legislation, the Federal Financial Relations Bill, which appropriates money to Treasury to pass on to the states. Does your department receive any appropriations that will be transferred to the Treasury department?

Mr Wood —The main appropriations that will be affected by this relate to the AusLink programs and also the local government financial assistance grants programs. Advice from Treasury is that at this stage those appropriations will not transfer to Treasury this financial year. We are currently in discussions with Treasury about the process for that.

Senator BERNARDI —Did the agency receive any depreciation funding for recurrent expenditure in the last financial year?

Mr Wood —The department received depreciation funding. That is disclosed in our portfolio additional estimates statements for our revised budget for 2008-09. Forecast depreciation expenditure is about $13.9 million.

Senator BERNARDI —Has any depreciation funding been used for purposes other than the replacement of capital items in 2007-08?

Mr Wood —No.

Senator BERNARDI —So how much has the department spent on the replacement of capital items in the first six months of this financial year?

Mr Wood —I will take that on notice.

Senator BERNARDI —Chair, I have a few questions on the stimulus package.

CHAIR —I think your colleagues have given you the call for the whole corporate services.

Senator BERNARDI —How generous!  You mentioned you have responsibilities under the recent stimulus package announced by the government. I would like to know when the department was asked for input before the stimulus package was announced?

Mr Taylor —We provide continuous input on policy matters to the government at all times. We do not actually get what I would call a flag that falls, which says, ‘This is about package X or package Y.’ Certainly, in the case of the nation-building package, while we were putting information in on an ongoing basis to government, as we have always done, we only became aware of the nature and dimensions of the nation-building package when it was announced.

Senator BERNARDI —So the effects on your portfolio only became apparent to you when the announcement—

Mr Taylor —That is right. As I have outlined, we have responded very rapidly to that. I made the observation about the announcement that took place in December and then in early February. I indicated that our response to that was to also reorganise the department so that it could respond very rapidly and effectively to that process—that changed process and changed initiative of government.

Senator BERNARDI —Are you able to provide me with a list of programs that are currently tracking for an underspend in this financial year?

Mr Wood —We could provide that. We recently updated our budget estimates in the 2008-09 portfolio additional estimates statements. We did have a reduction in our estimate for a couple of programs.

Senator BERNARDI —Can you tell me what those programs are?

Mr Wood —They are disclosed in our portfolio additional estimates statements.

Senator BERNARDI —I do not have that.

Mr Wood —Sorry, if it would help, we could provide a table to you later.

Senator BERNARDI —That would be great. If you could provide a table, that would be terrific. Thank you. Are you able to tell me how much was spent on media monitoring in the current financial year?

Mr Banham —Yes. Through to the end of December, it was $500,799.

Senator BERNARDI —That is for the six months through to the end of December?

Mr Banham —That is correct.

Senator BERNARDI —Okay.

Senator Conroy —My understanding is that the costs in terms of the existing contract are actually the costs in terms of the contract that your former government signed.

Senator BERNARDI —Really?

Senator Conroy —There has been no change whatsoever.

Senator BERNARDI —You seem very defensive on this. I have merely asked the question, and you chime in.

Senator Conroy —On the contrary, I am happy to explain that in 2004-05 you spent $984,000, that in 2005-06 you spent $919,000 and that in 2006-07 you cracked the million mark.

Senator BERNARDI —It looks very much as if you are going to exceed that as well. We are trying to get some facts on the record—

Senator Conroy —I have just given you some.

Senator BERNARDI —but you cannot help it; you take yourself away from playing solitaire or whatever you are doing on your computer, and you want to chime in.

CHAIR —Solitaire! That would be right.

Senator BERNARDI —No, he has joined with Kim Carr now, so he is no longer alone.

Senator Conroy —I think you are the only person who has been playing solitaire recently, Senator Bernardi. In fact, if you are not careful, you will be sent into that room to sit in the corner by yourself with the dunce cap on.

Senator BERNARDI —The naughty corner!

Senator Conroy —Mr Turnbull is watching you as you speak.

Senator BERNARDI —You would be familiar with the naughty corner, wouldn’t you, Senator Conroy?

Senator Conroy —You can borrow my old chair!

Senator BERNARDI —But we are getting diverted. With $500,799, could you tell me how many staff are actually employed within the media-monitoring section of the department—or on media related duties, I should say?

Mr Banham —With regard to media monitoring, it is a fully contracted service. Our staff may work on the periphery to help with the distribution, but it would not be material and we would not record that level.

Senator BERNARDI —Okay. What about media related duties within the department?

Mr Banham —Staffing numbers? I will need to get back to you on those.

Senator BERNARDI —Okay, that would be great. Thank you. Chair, mindful of time, I will place a number of questions on notice if that is all right, but I will just follow along from this if I can. Going back to media related duties, what communications programs has the department undertaken or is the department planning to undertake?

Mr Banham —We only have two major campaigns which are in the category that the government would classify as ‘campaigns’: the trial of the new screening technology for liquids, aerosols and gels—that is $389,054—and the continued promotion of the Green Vehicle Guide, focusing on car owners and buyers—that is $260,946.

Senator BERNARDI —Thank you. What about hospitality? What was the department’s hospitality spend in 2008 and also the financial year to date?

Mr Banham —For the 2007-08 FBT year, it was $109,692.

Senator BERNARDI —Do you have details for the financial year to date?

Mr Banham —No, we do not.

Senator BERNARDI —Would you be able to provide those?

Mr Banham —We can get them on notice.

Senator BERNARDI —Equally, I would be interested in the date, location and purpose of the hospitality expenditure. I am happy to put these questions on notice as well, just to clarify it for you. There is a continuing order of the Senate which has asked for advice of the board appointments. Have you been complying with any notice of—

Mr Banham —Sorry, could you repeat the question.

Senator BERNARDI —There has been a continuing order applying in the Senate requesting that we be advised of any board appointments, and I just question whether you have been maintaining the flow of advice into the Senate about appointments to any boards within your portfolio area.

Mr Banham —Yes, we tabled that on 19 January.

Senator BERNARDI —Thank you. And that provides a list of board members and the states and territories in which they reside?

Mr Banham —Yes.

Senator BERNARDI —Okay, that is fine. Thank you. Has the department received any advice on how to respond to freedom of information requests?

Mr Banham —No, Senator.

Senator BERNARDI —How many freedom of information requests has the department received?

Mr Banham —The number of requests we have received since 1 July 2008 is 25, of which we transferred 10 to other Commonwealth agencies. That is the number.

Senator BERNARDI —How many of the remaining 15 have been granted or denied?

Mr Banham —We have granted two in full. Of the ones we have processed, which is 12, which we have actually run to completion, we have granted two in full and six in part, and in four we have declined access.

Senator BERNARDI —And the remaining three are still under consideration, are they?

Mr Banham —They are still in process.

Senator BERNARDI —Chair, that is all I have. I know Senator McGauran has some questions, but I will put the rest on notice, thank you.

Senator McGAURAN —Senator Milne just wanted to put a quick question.

Senator MILNE —Mr Taylor, I want to ask if you have a whole-of-agency approach to incorporating the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as a screen against all work that your agency does, whether it is road transport, aviation, local government infrastructure and all that sort of thing; if that screen is implemented across the agency; and how it reports back to you.

Mr Taylor —I cannot say we have, as you have described it, a whole-of-government screen. I do not understand—

Senator MILNE —Whole of agency.

Mr Taylor —A whole-of-agency screen. But I might ask David Banham to reflect on how, in our organisational operation, we have gone about driving issues which have been particularly aimed, in terms of activity, at greenhouse gas management and the environmental efficiency of buildings.

Senator MILNE —I will just clarify. I was not so much asking you about what you do in your offices. I am asking you, for example, as the Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, when you are looking at national transport strategy, infrastructure and service transport policy, infrastructure investment, airports and aviation—all those things—

Mr Taylor —I answered that, but I probably did not put it clearly enough. No, we do not have a whole-of-department screen on those issues.

Senator MILNE —So how do you contribute to the whole-of-government approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, if that is not a priority area for all of your—

Mr Taylor —Importantly, most of those activities are activities where we put policy programs in place but they are actually often undertaken by states, territories and local governments. They are the parties who actually carry out the operational activity, and of course they are the parties who actually carry out those judgments about how they best deliver, including best delivering on greenhouse gas reduction.

Senator MILNE —I would have thought, though, given that potentially infrastructure is one of the most critical ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, that leaving it to the program delivery agency or to the states is actually a recipe for having nothing done.

Mr Taylor —We would have a different view. We think most of our state partners are quite proactive in this area.

Senator MILNE —We will see when we come to the major roads infrastructure. Thank you.

Senator McGAURAN —I am also mindful of time. I will put a great many of my questions on notice in regard to how many reviews the department has undertaken—I have a series of questions there—and how many consultancies are underway. There is also a series of questions there. But I would like to just touch on one subject, and that is the Community Cabinets. There is a growing feedback of ministers being hauled out at great expense and just acting as a backdrop, if you like, to what has become the Prime Minister’s show. They do not really need to be there because the Prime Minister does all the talking. They have little to say—

Senator HUTCHINS —That is not true, Julian. I was there last week.

Senator McGAURAN —Well, this is the feedback, and this is the question. I happen to be asking the table over there and not exchanging debate with you.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, just ask your question.

Senator McGAURAN —At great expense, these ministers are just acting as a backdrop—

CHAIR —Do you have a question, Senator McGauran?

Senator McGAURAN —so it may well be becoming farcical. What is the expense of, say, the department, or the minister’s travel expenses for these community meetings?

Senator Conroy —All of that information is publicly available via, I think, PM&C estimates, Senator McGauran. I think it is regularly asked for and regularly provided. We are happy to take it on notice but I am not sure that we would have that information readily at hand. Quite genuinely, I think Senator Faulkner provides that information for the total cost across the whole of government through the PM&C estimates. I am sure if you raced around there you could even get the information out of him today—if it is on.

Senator McGAURAN —Thank you, Minister, and I would ask that you specifically provide the department’s cost for travel expenses.

Mr Taylor —I am happy to take that on notice, but David Banham will probably provide a reasonable outline of where we currently sit.

Mr Banham —Since the last hearing, there have been meetings in Launceston, Corio and Campbelltown. The department’s costs for Launceston was $1,953. For Corio it was $1,064 and for the recent meeting at Campbelltown it was $1,063.

Senator McGAURAN —For the minister?

Mr Banham —No, those are departmental costs.

Senator McGAURAN —How many ministerial staff and department officers travel with the minister to these meetings?

Mr Banham —At Launceston it was the secretary, at Corio it was the deputy secretary and for Campbelltown it was the secretary and the deputy secretary.

Senator McGAURAN —And ministerial staff?

Mr Banham —I think on each occasion it was just the one.

Senator McGAURAN —Do any party meetings happen to coincide with these community cabinet activities? You might laugh, Minister, but it is very important. I ask that question genuinely. We do not want to use it as an excuse for sideline fundraising by the minister if he is out there on a community cabinet exercise. So I would ask you, Minister: are there any party fundraisers, party meetings or party activities that coincide with these community meetings?

Senator Conroy —Not that I am aware of, but I think I need to explain to you the full process because unfortunately I think the intelligence you are receiving matches the recipient. The information you have got probably does not include the fact that, after the cabinet takes questions from the floor, we then go into a process whereby people have made appointments to see any and all of the cabinet ministers present. So there are many, many questions that are put to us one on one throughout the next hour or hour and a half. I myself met with the mayor of an adjoining shire to Campbelltown, where we were—

Senator McGAURAN —Who was that mayor?

Senator Conroy —I would have get you his name.

Senator McGAURAN —Exactly.

Senator Conroy —It was a smaller shire that adjoins Campbelltown. I will happily supply you with a list. We had a very good meeting—

Senator McGAURAN —I am sure that mayor will be embarrassed that you cannot remember.

Senator HUTCHINS —If it is the mayor of Camden, I think he is a member of the Liberal Party.

Senator Conroy —I was in no way suggesting, Senator Hutchins, that we were meeting with Labor Party people. There is an appointments process—perhaps if you took the time to go onto the PM&C website you could find out how to make an appointment, Senator McGauran. So the process is that people register to attend, and they also then register to ask for a meeting—the process then has two components. You appear to have only been informed of half of the issues.

Senator BERNARDI —That is why he is asking you.

Senator Conroy —No, he has suggested something other—that Labor Party meetings take place.

CHAIR —Senator Bernardi, the minister is halfway through answering the question. You could have the decency to let him get it out.

Senator Conroy —So during the course of the afternoon and evening there are no organised meetings for cabinet members to attend on a party political basis that I am aware of. Many of the cabinet colleagues have meetings with community groups in the area, and we then take questions from the floor.

The Prime Minister will answer some of the questions and the cabinet members on the platform will also answer some of the questions. So I think, unfortunately, the information you have received is a little deficient because it has not described the full processes involved. But, to go to the thrust of your insinuation, as far as I am aware no party political meetings take place during the community cabinets.

Senator McGAURAN —I will put the rest on notice.

CHAIR —I thank the officers from corporate services.

[9.51 am]