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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE
25/02/2009
DEFENCE PORTFOLIO
Senators in attendance:

Senator the Hon. John Faulkner, Special Minister of State

Senator the Hon. Joe Ludwig, Minister for Human Services



Mr Nick Warner PSM, Secretary of Defence

Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC, AFC, Chief of the Defence Force

Rear Admiral James Goldrick, Acting Vice Chief of the Defence Force

Major General Paul Alexander, Commander, Joint Health

Mr Phillip Prior, Chief Finance Officer

Lieutenant General David Hurley AO, DSC, Vice Chief of the Defence Force

Mr Neville Tomkins, Head, Personnel Services Division, Department of Defence

Mr John Owens, Head, Infrastructure Division, Department of Defence














Vice Admiral Matt Tripovich AM, CSC, Chief Capability Development






Dr Steve Gumley, Chief Executive Officer Defence Materiel Organisation

Rear Admiral Boyd Robinson, Head, Maritime Systems Division




Mr Martin Bowles, Deputy Secretary Defence Support




Mr Phil Minns, Deputy Secretary People Strategies and Policy




Vice Admiral Russ Crane AM, CSM, RAN, Chief of Navy


Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie AO, DSC, CSM, Chief of Army


Air Marshal Mark Binskin AM, Chief of Air Force


Mr Stephen Merchant, Deputy Secretary Intelligence, Security & International Policy


Professor Robert Clark, Chief Defence Scientist


Mr Greg Farr, Chief Information Officer


Mr Michael Del Gigante, Managing Director

Mr Robert Groom, Chief Financial Officer














Mr Ian Campbell PSM, Secretary

Mr Gary Collins, Acting Deputy President

Mr Ken Douglas, General Manager, Service Delivery

Mr Barry Telford, General Manager, Policy and Development

Mr Sean Farrelly, National Manager, Compensation and Income Support Policy

Dr Graeme Killer AO, Principal Medical Adviser






Mr Ian Campbell PSM, Secretary

Mr Gary Collins, Acting Deputy President

Mr Ken Douglas, General Manager, Service Delivery

Mr Barry Telford, General Manager, Policy and Development

Dr Graeme Killer AO, Principal Medical Adviser





Mr Ian Campbell PSM, Secretary

Mr Gary Collins, Acting Deputy President

Ms Kerry Blackburn, General Manager, Commemorations and War Graves

Major General Paul Stevens AO (Rtd), Director, Office of Australian War Graves





Mr Ian Campbell, Secretary

Mr Gary Collins, Acting Deputy President

Mr Neil Bayles, Acting General Manager, Business Integrity

Mr Ken Douglas, General Manager, Service Delivery

Dr Graeme Killer AO, Principal Medical Adviser

Mr Barry Telford, General Manager, Policy and Development



Mr Ian Campbell, Secretary

Mr Gary Collins, Acting Deputy President

Mr Ken Douglas, General Manager, Service Delivery

Dr Graeme Killer AO, Principal Medical Adviser

Mr Barry Telford, General Manager, Policy and Development


Mr Ian Campbell, PSM, Secretary

Mr Gary Collins, Acting Deputy President

Ms Jo Schumann, General Manager, Corporate

Mr Neil Bayles, Acting General Manager, Business Integrity

Mr Ken Douglas, General Manager, Service Delivery

Mr Barry Telford, General Manager, Policy and Development

Ms Kim Loveday, National Manager, Parliamentary and Communication

Ms Kerry Blackburn, General Manager, Commemorations and War Graves

Ms Carolyn Spiers, Principal Legal Adviser

Mr Neil Bayles, National Manager of the Investigation Practice Group

Mr Graeme Rochow, Chief Finance Officer



Major General Steve Gower AO, AO (Mil) (Rtd), Director

Ms Rhonda Adler, Assistant Director, Branch Head, Corporate Services

Ms Helen Withnell, Assistant Director, Branch Head Public Programs

Ms Nola Anderson, Assistant Director, Branch Head National Collection

Ms Leanne Patterson, Chief Finance Officer

CHAIR (Senator Mark Bishop) —I declare open this meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I welcome Senator Faulkner, representing the Minister for Defence; Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, Chief of the Defence Force; Mr Nick Warner, Secretary of the Department of Defence; officers of the Defence organisation; and also General Gillespie, Chief of Army.

Today the committee will consider additional estimates for the Defence organisation. When written questions on notice are received, the chair will state for the record the name of the senator who submitted the questions. The questions will be forwarded to the department for answer. I remind senators to provide their written questions on notice to the secretariat by close of business Tuesday, 3 March. The committee has resolved that Thursday, 9 April 2009 is the return date of answers to questions taken on notice at these hearings. Please note that, under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice.

Witnesses are reminded that the evidence given to the committee is 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. The giving of false or misleading evidence to the committee may constitute a contempt of the Senate. The Senate, by resolution in 1999, endorsed the following test of relevance of questions at estimates hearings:

Any questions going to the operation of financial positions of the department and agencies which are seeking funds in the estimates are relevant questions for the purposes of estimates.

The Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise. An officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy. He or she shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officers to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policy or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground on which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer having regard to the ground which is claimed. Any claim that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by the minister and should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis of the claim. Minister, do you have an opening statement?

Senator Faulkner —I do not, but CDF certainly does.

CHAIR —I now invite CDF to make an opening statement.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —This morning I would like to begin by providing an update on ADF operations: Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, the Solomon Islands and the ADF response to the recent bushfires in Victoria. I will then provide an update on the condition of Navy clearance diver, Paul de Gelder, who was attacked by a shark in Sydney Harbour whilst taking part in Exercise Kondari, and comment on the progress made in regard to special forces pay remediation. I then look forward to your questions on other matters.

Our operational tempo continues to be demanding. In mid-February we had 4,500 people deployed on operations. Of these, 3,200 were on operations overseas, 500 on domestic maritime security activities, and 800 supporting the Victorian bushfire relief effort. Of these 4,500 people, 324 were reservists deployed overseas, and another 362 reservists were in Victoria for Operation Victoria Bushfire Assist.

Turning now towards Iraq, the committee will be aware that our military commitments in the Middle East were recently modified following the expiration of the United Nations Security Council mandate 1790 at the end of 2008. Just prior to the expiration of the mandate, a motion was passed by the Iraqi parliament for the orderly withdrawal of remaining non-US coalition forces by the end of July. Following the passage of this resolution, Australia negotiated a memorandum of understanding with Iraq which extends our contribution of military staff officers embedded within coalition headquarters to 31 July 2009. Subject to government consideration, after this date the ADF will continue to support Iraq in a number of ways, including through a small staff deployed to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, and a security detachment to provide protection to the Australian Embassy and its staff in Baghdad.

While 2009 will remain a challenging period for the Iraqi government, the desire of the Iraqi parliament to draw down all non-US forces by 31 July is a strong indication of the Iraqi government’s improved capacity to manage its own security affairs. Essentially, the security situation in Iraq has improved substantially over the last 18 months. Despite periodic escalations, there has been a downward trend in sectarian violence and in attacks on coalition forces.

It is also pleasing to note that the recent provincial elections have been completed without reports of major violence and with record voter turnout—including, for the first time, the majority of Sunni communities. This is yet another very positive sign that conditions for peace and stability are greatly improving.

2009 will also be an important year for the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Earlier this month, I accompanied the Minister for Defence to a working session for International Security Assistance Force defence ministers in Krakow, Poland. This informal meeting was attended by defence ministers from the United States, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Canada, Poland, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Afghanistan and many other nations. This meeting provided the minister with an opportunity to engage with the major troop-contributing countries operating in Afghanistan. As the defence minister recently noted: ‘The ISAF meetings continue to be a significant forum to review progress made by international coalition forces in Afghanistan.’

While in Krakow, the defence minister conducted successful bilateral meetings with various counterparts, including United States Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates; Dutch Minister of Defence, Eimert van Middelkoop; British Secretary of State for Defence, John Hutton; Canadian Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay; and Afghan Minister for Defence, General Wardak. In addition to these meetings, I conducted successful counterpart calls with United Kingdom Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, and Dutch Chief of Defence Staff, General Peter van Uhm.

During these calls, the minister and I reiterated the need for a sustained and comprehensive international commitment in Afghanistan that emphasises security, development, governance and engagement with Afghanistan’s regional partners—particularly Pakistan. We also stressed the importance of ensuring that non-NATO partners continue to have the opportunity to participate in Afghanistan planning meetings. We also took the opportunity to discuss the upcoming Afghan presidential and provincial elections, and the ongoing development and expansion of Afghanistan’s national security forces.

I will now expand on both of these issues for the committee. Firstly, the elections. The Afghanistan government has recently announced that it will hold its presidential and provincial council elections in August 2009. There can be little doubt that extremist elements in Afghanistan will try to interfere with these elections. Of note, however, is the fact that security for these elections will be provided primarily by the Afghan national security forces, with ISAF elements providing some logistic support and, only in extremis, security assistance. The ADF Operational Mentor and Liaison Team have played an important supporting role to the Afghan national army during the voter registration process. This ADF element will continue to play a crucial supporting role as it works to provide security in major district centres in the lead up to, and conduct of, the Afghan elections. Through this important work, the ADF is working together with the ANA to reassure the population and ensure a secure environment in which the population can vote.

Secondly, in terms of the expansion of Afghanistan’s national security forces, I am very pleased to be able to report that the US and ISAF have recently accelerated the training and development of the security forces. I welcome these efforts as I firmly believe a larger domestic security force, combined with increased US and ISAF troop commitments, will ultimately lead to a more capable Afghanistan national security force—one that is capable of defending local communities from insurgent intimidation. However, I do note that similar progress is also necessary with police and civil agencies.

In terms of ADF progress, the committee can be very pleased with the way in which the ADF’s many and varied tasks are continuing and the way in which our people are conducting themselves. The Special Operations Task Group has had significant success. Over the last 18 months, our special forces have conducted successful operations against senior Taliban leadership, resulting in the death of key Taliban insurgent planners and the capture of others. This has significantly degraded the Taliban’s ability to conduct insurgency operations in the province. The resulting improvement in security conditions has allowed space for development and training activities to continue in Oruzgan.

Our mentoring and reconstruction task force continues to provide local construction and development support. Some of their recent achievements include the strengthening and reopening of bridges in Zabol on highway 1, prior to the onset of winter; continued construction support to major roads and crossings that will link Tarin Kowt with Chora, Dorafshan and Mirabad; and continued support to schools and health facilities in Tarin Kowt, including the ongoing construction of a provincial health training centre which will be used to train health professionals for employment across Oruzgan. Our Operational Mentor and Liaison Team—which was integrated into an Afghan National Army Kandak, or battalion, during November 2008—is now assisting that kandak to conduct security operations, under the direction of Afghan authorities.

The ADF Control and Reporting Centre is continuing to provide airspace management, coordination and deconfliction in support of coalition air operations over Afghanistan. This capability is scheduled to redeploy to Australia at the end of July this year—ending a two-year air defence commitment from the RAAF Surveillance and Response Group. We also continue to assist agencies such as AusAID and the Australian Federal Police who are providing support in Afghanistan as part of Australia’s whole-of-government commitment. These agencies are assisting Afghanistan to develop their national police and tackle narcotics trafficking.

On a much sadder note, I am sure the committee would be aware of the recent engagement between Special Operations Task Group soldiers and insurgents that resulted in the death—regrettably—of five children and the injury of two adults and two children. An investigation is currently underway into the situation. However, I can confirm that members of the Special Operations Task Group were conducting a deliberate operation to clear a number of compounds of interest in the province of Oruzgan. The death of civilians and noncombatants during any conflict is very regrettable. And I must stress that Australian forces deploy with rules of engagement which are designed to minimise the loss of life and ensure compliance with Australia’s domestic and international legal obligations. We take all reasonable steps to ensure that our engagement of Taliban extremist forces do not put the lives of civilians or noncombatants in jeopardy. I wish I could say the same thing about the Taliban.

The Taliban are a ruthless and brutal foe who, through their callous disregard for human life, continue to pose a serious threat to the people of Afghanistan, the ADF and coalition forces. They routinely employ tactics that place innocent Afghans at risk, by forcing them to fight on their behalf and by choosing to conduct operations from amongst the population. This intentionally places the lives of innocent civilians at risk. The ADF, on the other hand, conducts carefully planned operations, which involve assessing the risk of civilian casualties and positively identifying enemy forces before contact is initiated. In fact, I can share with you that, on a number of occasions, our offensive actions have been aborted due to the potential risk to civilians. I will wait for the investigation to conclude before commenting specifically on this particular incident, but I want to put on the record that I have great faith in our deployed men and women. And I have even greater faith in their desire to protect civilians and noncombatants, particularly children.

I am sure the members of the committee were as delighted as I was when, in January, Trooper Mark Donaldson became the first Australian in almost 40 years to receive the Victoria Cross. Trooper Donaldson was awarded this highest of honours for his exceptional gallantry in a fire fight in Afghanistan last year. His valour is an inspiration to us all.

Finally, I remind the committee that we have lost two fine soldiers in Afghanistan since we last convened. Lieutenant Michael Fussell died in November when an improvised explosive device detonated during a patrol and Private Greg Sher died in January in an indirect fire attack. I can assure you the loss of these dedicated and professional soldiers makes all the deployed ADF men and women ever more committed to achieving our tasks in Afghanistan.

In terms of East Timor, I intend to keep my comments brief. We remain committed to working with other Australian government agencies and the international community to provide the conditions and institutions necessary for East Timor’s development. It has been just over one year since the attacks on President Horta and Prime Minister Gusmao.

There is no doubt that these attacks were a setback for this young country but one I believe East Timor has now overcome. Since these attacks, outbreaks of violence have been avoided and significant progress has been made. In fact, the continued improvement of the security situation in East Timor satisfied conditions for a force reduction, with 100 soldiers returning to Australia last month. Our current commitment in East Timor is 650 personnel.

The final two operations I would like to highlight are significant because our contribution to them is largely made up of reservists. Firstly, we continue to provide about 140 military personnel to the DFAT led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, or RAMSI. They are providing security response support to the RAMSI Participating Police Force and the Solomon Islands police force. In conjunction with our RAMSI partners, including 45 personnel from New Zealand and liaison officers from Tonga and Papua New Guinea, the ADF has maintained a stable security environment to enable national programs focused on peace, reconciliation, economic recovery, law and order, and good governance.

Reservists are also a large component of our contribution to the recent bushfire effort in Victoria. As you are all aware, the fires were a terrible catastrophe for our nation. I know that you would have been as shocked as I was to see the level of devastation in these small communities and the anguish of the people who have suffered losses in this tragedy.

Sadly, people in Defence were directly affected. Some of our colleagues lost family, friends and cherished possessions. I have instructed any ADF member directly affected by this event to take the time they need to look after their family and friends. Of those in Defence unaffected by the tragedy, I have asked that they support their colleagues who have to take some time away from work.

In terms of ADF support to the disaster effort, I am very proud of the assistance provided by the ADF. At present, we are contributing about 180 people who are providing specialist and emergency support. We have just got another request through the emergency management authority for another 90 people to do search work for the Victorian coroner. These numbers are down from a peak of about 800 personnel and indicate that local people in the fire affected areas are beginning to re-establish their communities and local businesses and that state government agencies are now re-established. This has resulted in a decreased reliance on ADF resources and has allowed for a gradual drawdown of troops and assets from the area.

However, the ADF does stand ready to provide further support should the fire situation deteriorate over the coming days and we will continue to provide assistance for as long as it is required. I note that Major General John Cantwell has been seconded to the Victorian government as the Chief Operating Officer of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority. At this time, he is acting head until Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon takes charge in March. John is a very fine Army officer whose skills will be invaluable to rebuilding these devastated communities.

The weekend before last I spent two days, one of which was with the Prime Minister, visiting those affected by the fires, as well as visiting ADF people deployed to this bushfire crisis response. As already noted, a large number of people on this operation are reservists, and I applaud their efforts in what have been some very demanding activities. I particularly note that some of our people were involved in ground search activities. They were unfortunately exposed to some horrific and emotionally devastating scenes. I note for the committee that Defence’s medical and counselling teams continue to support our people involved in this operation. All defence personnel who served in this operation will be provided ongoing support once they return to their units or civilian work.

Of course, ADF support to the bushfires was just one part of a much larger effort. I would particularly like to congratulate the more than 4,000 firefighters from the Country Fire Authority and the Department of Sustainability and Environment. I would also like to congratulate the Victoria Police and the State Coroner’s Office of Victoria. On behalf of all the men and women of the ADF, I commend them on a difficult job very well done.

That concludes the operational aspect of my opening statement. I would now like to update the committee on the condition of Able Seaman Clearance Diver Paul Degelder. Able Seaman Degelder was attacked by a shark in Sydney Harbour on 11 February. At the time, he was taking part in exercise Kondari, which was a trial run of new technologies designed to protect Australia’s ports, naval bases and ships against terrorist attack. Able Seaman Degelder remains an in-patient at the Navy ward at St Vincent’s Hospital. Despite the seriousness of his injuries, primarily the loss of his right hand and right leg from just above the knee, he is recovering quickly and is in fine spirits. You probably saw that, in his most recent media statement on 18 February, Able Seaman Degelder thanked those who came to his aid immediately after the shark attack. I echo his sentiments and applaud the efforts of Leading Seaman Clearance Diver Jeremy Thomas, Able Seaman Clearance Diver Ryan Dart and Seaman Clearance Diver Arthur McLachlin for ensuring their friend and colleague was quickly removed from the water and received immediate lifesaving first aid. Able Seaman Degelder continues to receive support from family, friends and colleagues, and his morale appears to be good. It is anticipated that he will remain an in-patient at the Navy ward for at least another three to four weeks. After this time, he will receive hospital based rehabilitation and other ongoing care, as required.

The best location for his ongoing treatment is currently being explored, with a view to his return to the Navy workforce when it is appropriate. However, at this time, our priority is his physical and mental rehabilitation. I would like to take this opportunity to wish Paul Degelder and his family the very best as they embark upon this long road of recovery.

I conclude my statement with a brief comment on what I imagine will be the first line of questioning from the committee. During the last Senate estimates, it was brought to my attention that there was a problem with payments received by some members of the special forces. I admit that the Chief of Army and I were taken by surprise by this issue. At that time, we undertook to investigate and resolve the problem, and steps were taken to implement the minister’s direction to cease debt recovery. I can assure you that the Chief of Army is personally engaged in this issue and progress has been and is being made. Indeed, we have completely resolved the way ahead. The Chief of Army and I are keen to discuss this subject with the committee in some depth in order to clarify the situation and highlight the progress that has been made. In fact, the Chief of Army has a statement that he is eager to read to you, which will explain in great detail exactly how this issue is being resolved. However, before you hear from the Chief of Army, I would like to conclude by assuring the committee that, during the remediation period, no soldier is to be financially disadvantaged—I say that again: no soldier is to be financially disadvantaged—until all proficiencies have been audited, deficiencies identified and adequate training opportunities provided to enable affected soldiers to demonstrate proficiency. This is consistent with the Chief of Army directive that has been issued, and I table a copy of this directive for the committee now.

I would also like to add that the leaked email regarding this subject was sent by a senior soldier who was very well intentioned. Indeed, he was trying to sort out the issue appropriately within the chain of command. However, despite his best efforts, some individuals were going around him and his words reflect, I think, his deep frustration.

That concludes my opening statement. I thank you for the opportunity to address these topics at the outset of the hearing. I now look forward to expanding on any of my remarks or to address any other topics the committee desires.

CHAIR —Thank you, CDF. I think, General Gillespie, you have a statement to make?

Lt. Gen. Gillespie —As the Chief of the Defence Force has just stated, I am keen to discuss this subject with the committee so that I can clarify the situation and highlight the progress that has been made and outline how the issue will be handled in the coming weeks. First, let me state that I have been very disappointed to read and hear assertions that Army does not care about its soldiers and that, somehow, it would purportedly place its members into financial hardship through the way it administers them. I can assure you that nothing is further from the truth. Let me also state at the very beginning of my statement that I have been under no misapprehension of this house’s intention that no soldier suffer from financial detriment as a result of this issue. As an immediate result of the issue becoming apparent at the last estimates, I was given very clear and unambiguous direction from the minister in this regard.

The issue of remediating pay anomalies for special forces personnel—which has arisen through the implementation of the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal determinations—has been particularly complex and, at times, very frustrating. At all times, in trying to resolve this issue, I and my Army officials have had nothing but the affected soldiers’ welfare at the forefront of our approach. You will recall that in March 2007 and March 2008 the remuneration tribunal handed down decisions in relation to special forces pay, with an effective date of August 2007. These remuneration tribunal determinations included everything that we asked for. They did not include a transition period, simply because we did not ask for one. We assessed at the time that all personnel had attained the required competencies to match the requested workplace value. This, as is evident, turned out to be an incorrect assessment and is the principal cause of this whole issue.

The Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal determinations rolled into salary components that were previously paid as allowances. These allowances were previously appropriately authorised by the Special Operations Commander Australia. When the allowances became part of salary—when the determinations were implemented in August 2008—authorisation was effected through an automatic process that matches proficiencies recorded in our HR information system, called PMKeys, against pay points. A number of anomalies were identified and unit action was taken to remediate them. I would like to reinforce at this point that any criticism of the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, in this matter, is unfounded. I admire the tribunal’s processes and, in particular, I value the support that they have given Army through this process.

In October last year, the issue of special forces pay anomalies was raised here in this chamber. I advised that potentially 105 people were affected and that Army was still working through the issue to resolve the matter. In early December, I provided formal advice to the government on a remediation plan for affected personnel, which I was informed at the time were six special forces personnel. This advice was subsequently withdrawn by me when a continuing audit indicated that a further three people may be potentially affected. On 23 December, the Special Operations Commander Australia advised the Deputy Chief of Army that, despite considerable effort to identify affected personnel, he needed further technical assistance to adequately audit his command.

With a building sense of frustration, I then directed the Director-General Personnel Army to conduct a 100 per cent audit of records of all personnel who had served in special forces since August 2007 and who were in receipt of special forces allowances. As a measure of my concern over this issue, I had personnel from both Special Operations Command and Army Headquarters recalled from Christmas leave. This audit was completed on 31 January 2009. Of the approximately 1350 records audited, about 380 were found to have anomalies that may impact on remuneration.

The Special Operations Commander was tasked to investigate, by April 2009, each individual case with a view to providing a consolidated list of individuals that may need waivers and/or act of grace payments. The 100 per cent audit had identified that most of the anomalies occurred in the proficiency recording of what we call category B personnel. These are support personnel, such as signallers, who work in the special forces units, but who receive additional remuneration to their primary trade pay when they complete special forces reinforcement training. Prior to the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal determination, this additional remuneration was paid as an allowance and appropriately authorised by the Special Operations Commander. But now, as I have previously mentioned, it is based purely on automated matching of attained proficiencies with pay points.

Realising that we may have many category B personnel who, despite competently performing at designated levels throughout the special forces, may not have formally attained the full range of competency, I sought advice on whether I had the authority to implement a transition period and rectify the issue. I was informed such authority could only be granted through what is called a section 58B ministerial determination. On progressing the option of a 58B ministerial determination, I was advised by the appropriate delegate within Defence that it would be more appropriate to seek a transition period from the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal itself.

While this option was being pursued, I separately sought formal advice from the Defence General Counsel within Defence Legal on whether I could simply use my command authority to resolve this issue. The general counsel advice, which I received on 16 February 2009, revealed that in fact it was open to me to take ownership of this issue and to take administrative action to address the concerns. I immediately chose this course of action as being the most appropriate and timely course of action to meet the aim of looking after our people.

On 18 February 2009, I issued the directive tabled by the Chief of the Defence Force this morning. It outlines the administrative action that Army is now taking to remediate all trade competencies and pay anomalies in order to bring this unacceptable matter to a close. It establishes a transition period during which no soldier will be financially disadvantaged until all proficiencies have been audited, deficiencies identified and adequate training opportunities provided to enable affected soldiers to demonstrate proficiency. This effectively removes any discussion about debt. There is no debt; soldiers will be remunerated at the same levels they were before we implemented these DFRT determinations; and the transition period will provide the time needed for them to attain the required formal qualifications. While the policy issue of debt—and the suspension of all debts—has been resolved, complete remediation of the issue will take some months to achieve.

I would like to emphasise at this point that the length of this transition period will be designated by me after advice from Special Operations Commander. The Special Operations Commander has until 11 May of this year to recommend to me a training remediation plan for each affected soldier, taking into consideration operational commitments and training capacity. If soldiers fail to attain the required formal competencies by the completion of the designated time line, the soldier will have his pay adjusted from that time, with no retrospectivity. Let me emphasise this: no retrospectivity—that is, no debt. We will then have their records completely matching their attained level of proficiency.

Army is presently communicating the content of this competency remediation directive to affected members, but again I state it will not be until 11 May that individually tailored training remediation plans will be constructed. Communication on the specifics of this plan to all affected personnel will then follow.

I want to take this opportunity to quote excerpts from my directive of 18 February. The directive, which is a lawful order to my staff and commanders, personalises and attributes exacting accountability. The mission I directed was this: ‘Special Operations Commander is to complete a detailed audit of all special forces personnel against employment specifications impacted by DFRT Determinations by 27 April 2009, in order to remediate trade-pay and training anomalies.’

I provided a clear intent, which was as follows:

During the remediation period, no soldier is to be financially disadvantaged until all proficiencies have been audited, deficiencies identified and adequate training opportunities provided to enable affected soldiers to demonstrate proficiency.

All remediation action is to be command driven and afforded significant priority in order to reduce the impact on personnel and their families.

I further directed the following: ‘Special Operations Commander is to formally advise me on the outcomes of his work—which was phase II of this work—by not later than 27 April 2009,’ and:

Outcomes of this audit are to be presented by name against the following three classifications;

a.     Classification 1: those personnel, who are qualified, have been fully assessed, but whose proficiencies are not recorded on PMKeyS;

b.     Classification 2: those personnel, who can demonstrate, through the Recognition of Current Competencies … or Recognition of Prior Learning … processes, that they meet the assessment criteria to have their proficiencies recorded on PMKeyS; and

c.     Classification 3: those personnel, who require additional training and trade assessment to comply with the range of determined competencies.

It continued:

Finalisation of this audit sets the pre-conditions for the administrative action needed to remediate all anomalies, including establishing an appropriate timeline for the provision of additional training, re-training where appropriate and trade assessment.

In the directive, I then directed the following tasks be undertaken by the Special Operations Commander: provide outcomes of the special forces trade audit to me not later than 27 April 2009, in order that the three classifications detailed in paragraph 10 were clear to me; for members in classification 1, enter proficiencies into PMKeyS by not later than 11 May 2009; for members in classification 2, provide me a decision brief on recommended recognition of current competencies or recognition of prior learning action by not later than 11 May 2009; within seven days of receiving my decision in this regard, ensure approved RCC/RPL are correctly entered into PMKeyS in accordance with Personnel Development and Training business processes; for members in classification 3, provide me with a training-competency remediation plan by not later than 11 May, including the implications to trade and pay grades if full competencies are not achieved—this remediation plan is to recommend a time line for each individual to attain required competencies, after due consideration of operational commitments and training capacity, including the need for re-testing where appropriate. Re-testing is to be conducted in accordance with current policy. The plan is to also outline any related The Army Resource Plan implications; provide me, but not later than 1 June, confirmation that all affected members have been advised in accordance with subparagraph 6 outlined above; and provide me monthly updates, through the Director General Personnel Army, by the 5th of each month, on outstanding action to effect remediation by affected member.

I further directed that, among the many tasks be completed by my Director General Personnel Army, he was to produce by 1 August a defence instruction (Army) on the management of Army pay cases that clearly articulates the Army-wide processes that are to be followed in order to prevent a similar occurrence.

I concluded my directive by stating the following:

DFRT determinations in 07 and 08 recognised the high workplace value that SF—

that is, special forces—

personnel provide to achieve Army’s overall directed capability. It is now Army’s responsibility to ensure that all members are provided adequate competency training and detailed administrative support to enable them to be remunerated at the appropriate pay grade level. The current remediation process will be command-driven and has my direct focus. SOCAUST—

that is, the Special Operations Commander Australia, Major General McOwan—

is responsible for the trade competency remediation for all Special Forces personnel, to ensure member pay is not adversely affected through the incorrect recording of trade competency assessments. DGPERS-A—

that is, the Director-General Personnel-Army—

is to provide support through technical guidance on the correct recording competencies and pay skill variations into PMKeyS.

With regard to the leaked email from the regimental sergeant major of the Special Air Service Regiment, let me say that this was done to ensure this matter is managed in an appropriate way. The email was sent out because of a very senior soldier’s frustration with actions being taken outside the chain of command that have compromised my expressed intent to resolve the issue. The important parts of the email deal with identifying a single point of contact, and a genuine desire for soldiers to raise their concerns in the appropriate manner. I would not anticipate any disciplinary action being taken against people who are genuinely concerned about their pay. I would ask, however, that these people give the chain of command all the pertinent detail of their concerns so that this matter can be brought to a proper conclusion.

Let me also state at this point that I understand there will be special force members that currently possess documentation that states they have debts related to the implementation of these two remuneration tribunal determinations. Soldiers in possession of this debt documentation that was raised before I intervened should now use their chain of command to have the matter addressed.

Let me conclude by being very clear: there will be special force members who incur debts during this period for matters unrelated to the implementation of these two DFRT determinations—for example, the overpayment of deployment allowances. These debts will be recovered. This special forces pay issue and all the subsequent public debate has led some soldiers to believe that all debts will be waived. This is not the case. In this regard, special force soldiers are no different to any other soldier, and legitimate debts will be recovered.

Finally, I say to all soldiers that the chain of command is, in fact, your ally. I cannot assist you if you proceed outside this avenue of assistance to air your concerns. I have done, and will continue to do, everything within my power and authority to assist you, as indeed I do for every soldier in the Australian Army.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for that detailed commentary. We will now go to questions.

Senator FERGUSON —Can I say to both the CDF and the Chief of Army that in my almost 17 years as a member of estimates committees, and a long time on this committee, it is the first time I have ever been at a committee where we have had more than three-quarters of an hour of opening statements. The opening statement, particularly by Lieutenant General Gillespie, was detailed. It is impossible for us as committee members to digest all the things that were said in that statement and to be able to question it. I have always believed that the object of estimates is for those at the table to respond to issues and questions that are put by members of the committee, rather than us being faced with a document or statement that covers such a broad area with so much detail in it. Without being able to read that and digest it, it is almost impossible for us to respond to an opening statement that is as lengthy as that. I would register some disappointment. If a statement as comprehensive as that is to be made, it should be provided to the committee beforehand, rather than at the commencement of estimates, where 50 minutes of our questioning time has already elapsed.

CHAIR —Minister, do you care to respond?

Senator Faulkner —I have also been here a long time.

Senator FERGUSON —A bit longer.

Senator Faulkner —Yes, a bit longer. It feels like it some days, I can assure you, and probably today is one of those days. But as you know it is a tradition on this committee, particularly in relation to examination of the estimates of the Department of Defence, for both CDF and the secretary of the department to regularly give a comprehensive opening statement. On this occasion, because General Gillespie has made a detailed statement about an issue of concern to the committee, Mr Warner has not made an opening statement, and I would ask you to take that into account. It is always of benefit for as much information to be provided to the committee as possible and I can assure you I know that is the spirit in which both CDF and Chief of Army have provided their contributions to you.

I understand the point that you make about the necessity to get across detail but there will be no attempt by me or any of the senior defence officials at the table to do anything other than enable a full examination of all the issues that have been raised, I can assure you, Senator, and I suspect a considerable number that have not been raised.

Senator JOHNSTON —Air Chief Marshal, could I commence by asking for an undertaking from you that no soldier who has consulted his member of parliament—namely me or the member for Curtin—or the minister’s office will suffer any retribution, adverse comment upon his record or any negative impact whatsoever for going outside the chain of command on this issue? I ask that question as an opening question because I have in front of me a payslip that has written at the bottom ‘zero dollars’. That payslip, you will be surprised to know, was issued last month, on 22 January. It sought to recover the sum of $9,133 from the particular soldier who has been battling with this problem since May. At the end of the day, I trust and hope you will give me the undertaking I need so that we can move on from this very unsatisfactory matter, and these men, their wives and families can get on with the important job we have tasked them to do.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Nothing is more important to me than the welfare of the people of the Australian Defence Force and their families. You have my undertaking that there will be no retribution. As General Gillespie has told you in some detail, all we are interested in is getting to the bottom of this matter, resolving it to everybody’s satisfaction and ensuring that these people get their just rewards—rewards that have been earned by distinguished, professional and dedicated service. So you have my word that we will not pursue these people in any way.

We spoke to you after the last hearing and we said, ‘If you hear anything, please let us know.’ I find it a little frustrating that these issues come up in this forum, which is a highly political forum, when perhaps we could have these issues raised with the Chief of Army or me so that we could address the issues in a normal, professional way.

We have been seized with the need to resolve this issue for a long time. I have been to the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal. I had them review the determination. They had a look at it and they put out another determination which unfortunately only took in the SAS frontline combat troops; it did not take in the support troops. We were only left with the option that General Gillespie has briefed you on in order to resolve the issue and move ahead. I would stress to you that there has been a lot of misinformation in the media. Nobody will be financially disadvantaged by this issue—and you have my word on that, too. It is important that we get the facts on the record that that is the way we are proceeding. We have a way ahead that will resolve this situation to your complete satisfaction, I hope, and—more importantly from my point of view—to the complete satisfaction of the Australian government.

CHAIR —I wonder if the tabling statements of CDF and Chief of Army could be provided to the secretariat staff for circulation to senators.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Certainly. We can give you all of the information and the directive and we can come back to this later in the day, if you wish, when you have had a chance to have a look at the documentation we have provided.

Senator JOHNSTON —CDF, I thank you very much for that undertaking. There are a lot of people streaming this particular estimates hearing now who will be very thankful and relieved by that. It was only last Friday that I received authority to proceed with what we have proceeded with. I was the last resort. What has been happening below senior levels of management and command since October has been most ungratifying.

I take no comfort in doing what I have done with respect to this matter. It seems to me, following General Gillespie’s statement, that we still do not understand the essence of the problem and that is that these men are virtually all fully qualified. The fact that the computer system does not show that is not to be taken as evidence that they are not qualified. This audit is effectively questioning their standing. We have to come to terms with the fact that we do not take the computer’s word as law. I cannot believe we are saying, as the minister has said, that it is a computer problem. Personnel issues can never be reduced to a computer problem.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —The essence of what General Gillespie has briefed you on is that the approach we are taking is that we are assuming everybody is qualified at this stage. Everybody is qualified. As General Gillespie briefed you, everybody will be paid as if they have the competency and as if they have the qualification. What we have to do is go through a process to make sure that everybody has the competency amongst those support staff, and that requires an audit of competency.

Let me put it another way. Over the years I have been given flying allowance. If I were paid flying allowance and I was not a pilot, there would be a problem. Fundamentally, what the Army audit is all about is ensuring that competencies and remuneration are aligned in accordance with the requirements of the Financial Management and Accountability Act. So we have to go through that process and we have to do it in the right way in accordance with the guidelines that we are obliged to follow.

Senator JOHNSTON —The remuneration tribunal had one submission and it was an ADF submission. It apparently followed the submission. There has been no such similar problem for the last 25 years with the management of this regiment. For some unknown reason, at the stroke of a pen we have rendered qualifications illegitimate. That is the issue. For any number of reasons, I cannot accept that an audit going through and having them file recognition of current competency forms—as we are asking them to do—is going to achieve a rectification of the mischief here, which is that someone above them has said, ‘We must now follow a procedure because it has been ordained by the tribunal that these competencies, which we have accepted for, in some circumstances, 10 years, are now not acceptable.’ That is the issue, surely.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —No, it is not. I think this word ‘mischief’ is not the right word here. We are seized with the need to sort this problem out. Chief of Army has given you a comprehensive insight into the way we are doing it. If you have a look at the directive he has put out, it makes very clear where some of the problems are. We are obliged in the way we pay people to follow the Commonwealth’s guidelines on remuneration. There is no getting around that. You seem to be suggesting to me: ‘All these people have been around for a long time—just pay them all and everything will be fine.’ Unfortunately, we cannot do that.

There is an issue—the minister mentioned there is an issue—with our information systems. Fundamentally, one of the issues here is the fact that competencies are recorded on a different system from the system that we use to pay people. They are disconnected; they are two totally different systems, and a lot of the complexities of this issue are tied up with that fact. In fact, I might get General Gillespie to just run you through some of the complexities of the issue so that you get a better understanding of what we are grappling with at the moment.

Senator JOHNSTON —Before he does that, can I ask this: from what you have said, what has gone on before 9 August 2007 has obviously been problematic on the basis of your assessment in terms of their entitlement to pay and conditions—is that correct?

Lieutenant General Gillespie —No, it is not correct.

Senator JOHNSTON —Well, if it was right then, why could it not be right now?

Lieutenant General Gillespie —The process that we had before the determination was about allowances. I have made the observation on a number of occasions, appropriately authorised by the Commander Special Operations Command. There was a mandrolic solution taken to recognise people’s competencies.

Senator JOHNSTON —Sorry—‘mandrolic’?

Lieutenant General Gillespie —‘Mandrolic’ means we did not have much computer help in this process. It was a hand-only issue.

Senator JOHNSTON —Maybe we need to go back to that.

Lieutenant General Gillespie —We rolled those allowances through the determination into salary. The determination of the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal is a legal determination. It is not a ‘nice-to-have’; it is a legal determination. Therefore, I have a responsibility to make sure that the determination they made in terms of competencies is reflected in the workforce and how I pay them. That is my accountability both in that sense and under the Financial Management Act. I think that the plan I have put forward here and that we have adopted in Army actually does that, and does it neatly.

The starting point of my remediation plan was not to challenge the competencies of the people but to assume that—because of the vagaries of our system, the disconnectedness of two computer systems and the fact that the administrative system necessary for us to make the computer entries et cetera is suboptimal in Army—their competencies are accurate. We will audit to make sure that they are, and where they are not we will give the people the training and time necessary to do it. That meets my legal obligation under the DFRT determination.

It is not a matter of willy-nilly here. There are legal obligations both under the Financial Management Act, for which I am audited, and the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal, which is a legal body, to make sure that we do the things properly. The computer systems, I have got to tell you, frustrate the hell out of me. What we have is a process whereby entry into PMKeys is anything other than easy and takes time. So I suspect, and one of the reasons why I have assumed that people have got the competencies, that there is a latent catch-up in this area. If I find that there is not, then we have built a process in to make sure that people are given the appropriate opportunity to be trained and qualified without detriment to their pay.

Senator JOHNSTON —How long is that time going to be and when does it commence?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —You have heard me say that most of the executive action is focused on me getting enough detail for me to make clear decisions by 11 May.

Senator JOHNSTON —And no soldier will have his wages and salary, as being received on 9 August 2007, reduced in the interim or in the prospective period?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —You have heard CDF and I say that about three times this morning. That is our intent. I also said quite clearly during the process that, because of the vagaries of our pay system and the computers and how they work, I am confident that there are actually people out there with salary adjustments that I desperately need them to take out of the public domain with you and introduce them to me so that I can fix the issue. If I have got them working through the chain of the command, then I can address it, but whilst they are unknown to me—we discussed this at the last estimates in this process; people write to you, you treat it with privacy—I do not even know what the issue is.

Senator JOHNSTON —I assure you that you have all of them. The regiment is fully availed of all of the concerns of each of these soldiers.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —In that case, I am comfortable, because I need the regiment to be fully availed so that we can do what it is that I have set out to do.

Senator JOHNSTON —When you say that no soldier will be financially disadvantaged, does that include the soldiers’ superannuation and death benefit standing?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —No disadvantage. That was the demand of the house and the demand of the—

Senator JOHNSTON —We are clarifying that the contingent liabilities of the Commonwealth to these men for superannuation and death benefits are included in the ‘no disadvantage’ and that the ‘no disadvantage’ or ‘no detriment’ clause that prevailed on 9 August 2007 is still current?

Air Chief Marshall Houston —It was an allowance previously. When it is rolled into salary, there is actually an advantage from a superannuation point of view. So, in actual fact, they will gain financial benefit in superannuation terms, because the allowance is now being rolled into salary. That is what we are trying to achieve here.

Senator JOHNSTON —I think that is great.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Can I make a very clear distinction here. The problem started with remediation being seen as people not having the competencies and, therefore, debt recovery action was commenced. What I am saying to you very clearly is that debt recovery is not an option in the way ahead for this process. If you like, on the first occasion it is suspected that the people did not have the competencies and, therefore, adjusted their pay and they accrued debt. I am telling you that the solution going forward is that debt is not an issue. We assume that the competencies are gained and are correct. And, as we work our way through the processes, if we find a couple of people that the principle does not adhere to then we will train them, we will get them formally qualified and we will not garnish their pay.

Senator JOHNSTON —The money that we have taken off them to this point in time will be repaid and the interest payments that they have incurred and paid from their pay will be repaid to them and restored to them?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —The money will be repaid. I could not give you an answer off the top of my head on interest issues.

Senator JOHNSTON —If the debt is being repaid, I take it that it is debt and interest. I take it that you would want to see that repaid to them?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —I would like to, but I do not understand the implications of it just yet, so I will not give you an off-the-cuff answer.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —The debt will be repaid in accordance with Commonwealth guidelines. As you know, we are bound by those guidelines and we do not have any flexibility in the way we effect those payments. So, yes, we will pay them, but, in terms of interest, I do not know off the top of my head whether that is included or not. Perhaps we could take it on notice.

Senator JOHNSTON —All right. I think there was a directive of 18 November.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —I think the Special Operations Commander directive might have been then, yes.

Senator JOHNSTON —What did that direct?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —I do not have the directive here. It is a directive that was issued by General McOwan and I do not have it with me.

Senator JOHNSTON —I think the suggestion was that there would be a ceasing of debt recovery.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —As a result of the last estimates, we gave pretty clear instructions that debt recovery was to cease. Did that happen neatly at a given point in time? No, it did not. Why? Again I will go back to the vagaries of the pay system. Our pay system is quite antiquated. It needs line-by-line programming for the issues to be resolved and it takes a fortnight for one entry to be issued before it is affected at the other end. So we had some disconnects in that process. My view is that that should now be resolved, but because of the way this has been conducted over time I suspect that there are still a couple of people who need to have their debts readdressed through the chain of command.

Senator JOHNSTON —I make the point that on 18 November you allegedly ceased debt recovery but on 22 January it is still going on. That causes me great concern.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —It causes me concern if it is going on, but I do not necessarily know because I do not have access to what you have to know whether the debt was related to this determination or it was related to something else to do with Special Forces pay.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can I give you a copy of the salary advice?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Again, I made it very clear in my statement that I have enough suspicion to think that there are people out there who still have these things against them, and I need to know what they are so that I can fix them.

CHAIR —Do you want to table the document, Senator?

Senator JOHNSTON —I want to show him; I do not necessarily want to table it.

CHAIR —You are seeking to provide a document to General Gillespie but you are not seeking to table it—

Senator JOHNSTON —It is an aide-memoire to assist him with understanding what I am talking about.

CHAIR —Okay then.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Senator, it tells me about debt recovery action, but it does not tell me what the debt recovery is about.

Senator JOHNSTON —No. That exacerbates the problem, I would have thought.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —As a debating point, I do not know whether this is the recovery of overpayment of allowances. It says here, ‘Pay in advance recovery,’ which indicates that the soldier at some point had been paid in advance. The way that that happens is that as the fortnight rolls over it is a debt recovery, so there is a clearly auditable path there. This is an interesting case study, but it does not tell me that it is associated with this issue.

Senator JOHNSTON —I can tell you what it is associated with. He has been told that his qualifications have been rendered illegitimate by the tribunal’s ruling and that he is indebted to the Commonwealth dating back to 9 August, and there is the money—$18,263, $9,131 of which is the commencement. His pay, as you can see at the bottom, which he happily opened on that particular fortnight, is $0.00. Correct me if I am wrong, but he may well have actually been in Afghanistan at the time of receiving that.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Can I say that that in fact is sort of misleading in this process in the same way as the debt recovery can be misleading if I do not know what it is about. It says that entitlements, including adjustment this fortnight, is $0.00, so if he had been paid in advance for that fortnight the document would show that he got nothing on that pay.

Senator JOHNSTON —I can tell you he did not. He was told that he received $0.00 because of the debt recovery dating back to 9 August for competencies.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —If that is the case, and if I and the regiment have the issue, we will fix it as I have outlined.

Senator JOHNSTON —All I am saying is that it appears to me that when you issue a directive very little happens. This is some two months after that directive.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —I am not surprised, because the staff that we have working at this have been working their proverbial butt off to understand the whole of the issue. Now that we are getting to the end of the audit process—and you have got to understand what the audit process is: it is an audit process of a computer system on which we know the information is not as detailed as it should be, it is an audit of a pay system which is quite separate from the other, and because of those disconnects it is an audit of many, many files, course applications, course results, and those sorts of things; so it has taken a dedicated team of people a long time to get us to where we are—we are in a position, with a clear plan to go forward, where those people can fix these issues where they exist.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is a common occurrence that a serviceperson would receive zero pay?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —No. It can happen for a couple of reasons. One of them is as I have described: if you have been paid in advance, the document talks about the normal fortnightly entitlement. In this one, for example, it talks about a normal fortnightly payment of about $2,000 and says, ‘The payment this fortnight is zero.’ But it does say that there was a payment-in-advance recovery. I suspect that in this case the sum of zero is because he had been paid that fortnight’s pay previously. It can also have a zero zero statement at the bottom if the net pay that a person draws, when all those deductions are taken out, equals zero. But that is not the whole story: if you go up to fortnightly allotments and those sorts of things, you can find that people have allotments to bank accounts, to other financial institutions et cetera. So the sum at the bottom might say zero for this fortnight, but if you look through the document you can find that the person has not been left destitute, as I have heard.

Senator JOHNSTON —You can see that he has had debt recovery payments of sizeable amounts taken from his salary here.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —I can see debt recovery and I can see counterrecoveries in this. I can see that he has been paid in the positive over $11,000 in one area, and, in the negative, $9,000 et cetera. I would need to understand what that debt was about. It is not as simple as all of the recovery sums being the total of it—there is a net effect of this. As I said, right now, I can see that that one says, ‘Debt recovery payment: zero’, ‘Miscellaneous adjustment pay’ and ‘Commencement of debt recovery’—and then a cancellation of a good whack of that debt recovery. So it is not as simple as it would seem—that the soldier was left without money. If the soldier has been left without money, then for him and for the chain of command that is something that we can fix very easily if people bring it to us.

Senator JOHNSTON —How many soldiers are affected by this problem?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —I am uncertain of the actual number. The audit is still going on. They have until 11 May to do that, but potentially about 150 people. I say ‘potentially’ because, as we go through their records and do recognition of prior learning et cetera, I expect that number to drop substantially.

Senator JOHNSTON —And they are not all signallers?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —They are not all signallers.

Senator JOHNSTON —There are some troopers?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Yes.

Senator JOHNSTON —You talked about debts which will be recovered through the audit process. Can you quantify, classify and describe what those debts will be?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Yes.

Senator JOHNSTON —So we are clear, when wages are taken it is not about the remuneration ruling; it is about the matters you are about to tell me about.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —The real issue is that we are talking about a pay case determination and a set of effects for which I have outlined a remediation plan. People doing their normal day-to-day business in the organisation accrue debts, not necessarily through their own fault but sometimes because of how they conduct their business. A common one is when people redeploy from overseas, where they are on a tax-free salary and get deployment allowance, and they come back home: on the date they arrive back in Australia, there is a cease action. If that cease action does not happen, people can accrue a debt because they are paid money that they are not entitled to. I describe that as being a legitimate debt which people would have to reimburse.

Senator JOHNSTON —So that is a failure to adjust the tax status of the person when he returns from active duty and is overpaid by virtue of an error?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —That is right.

Senator JOHNSTON —That is one. What else is there?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —In my own case, I recently had a determination that said that a cessation of superannuation had been conducted incorrectly in my pay account and I had a debt of about $23,000 and would I pay that back. There are ways in every business where you can accrue debt. There can be debt recovery action taken for your visiting the clothing store and buying goods on your pay account. It will appear as a recovery action at the bottom. The point that I was trying to make here is that, because of the debate that has been happening, we need to separate the issue of the DFRT determination and debt and legitimate debt which people will be required to pay back.

Senator JOHNSTON —So no wages and salaries will be affected through the competency issue, but debts incurred in the ordinary course of business or through administrative oversight will be recovered?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —That is correct.

Senator JOHNSTON —But administrative oversight does not relate to this remuneration tribunal ruling and that is flowing from it?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —That is correct.

Senator JOHNSTON —Thank you. May I ask how many times you have met with the minister on this subject since 22 October.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Perhaps on three or four occasions, but there have been many more phone calls on this issue.

Senator JOHNSTON —Do you know the dates of those meetings?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Not off the top of my head.

Senator JOHNSTON —I suggest that many of them would have been since 10 February.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —In fact, I think there has been one meeting since 10 February; the rest of them would have been before Christmas, when he was making his intent to me quite clear.

Senator JOHNSTON —So in December he made his intent quite clear?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Straight after the estimates that we had in October, and, as I became frustrated with some of the responses that we were getting, and he became frustrated with my responses, there were quite a few communications by telephone et cetera.

0Senator Ferguson interjecting

Senator Faulkner —I will treat that as an editorial comment, so I will not respond to it.

Senator FERGUSON —Which you were very good at!

Senator JOHNSTON —So effectively we do not know how many personnel are affected by this problem, but we anticipate that at a date in April, according to your statement—

Lt Gen. Gillespie —That date was 11 May.

Senator JOHNSTON —On 11 May we will know exactly how many people are affected?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —That is my intent.

Senator JOHNSTON —What does this say about the wider service personnel beyond Special Forces? Are we going to need to conduct audits of all personnel with respect to qualifications and wages and salaries?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —You can guarantee that I am looking at whether it is an issue right now. I have staff looking to see whether or not I have other sleepers out there so that we do not have an October estimates where you surprise me.

Senator JOHNSTON —I know you were surprised—I accept that. You have a lot of things on your plate. This has been around since May. I underline the point that it was a big step for these men to come to me. And might I say they have informed their superior officers of everything discussed with me—they are that sincere and earnest it is staggering. They are so loyal to their regiment. This has been around since May. Can I say that if there is a wider problem we need to get it on the table and deal with it.

CHAIR —Did the original determination have specific application only to the regiment and the SAS people under discussion or did it have more general application to all Army personnel in receipt of both wages and allowances?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —No, this was a determination to do with the Special Forces group.

CHAIR —The Special Forces group only?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —There had been two determinations: one to do with commandos and one to do with the broader group, so it did not have an implication for the rest of Army. It was a case to do with the special forces.

CHAIR —But it is both special forces in the west and on the east coast as well?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Yes.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can I thank you General for the way that you have answered my questions today. I am satisfied that things are moving ahead positively. I have what I need for my satisfaction that these men will be looked after properly. Can you assist the committee by providing, prior to next estimates, a written report as to how many and how the rectification of this matter is progressing?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Certainly.

Senator TROOD —For my own deeper understanding of this matter, you said in your statement that a 100 per cent audit of records was undertaken by the Director-General, Personnel, Army, and that was completed on 31 January, as I understand it. You are now saying that another audit is being undertaken. I assume from that that the first audit was insufficient to provide you with the information you needed to understand the nature of the problem. Is that correct? Why are we doing two audits here?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —The audit had several facets to it. The first of them was to deal with a small number of people who had complained through the chain of command that they had an issue.

Senator TROOD —So that was the first one, was it?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —And, as the senator said, that had really started back in May last year when the unit started to do remedial action. It did not reach a crescendo, if you like, until estimates, when I went and had a look and we found the size of the problem. As we investigated those people and I demanded a little bit more information we found that there were some other people who were affected. So on 23 December I said ‘Enough is enough; let’s do the whole lot.’ What I got at the end of January was a very clear indication as to the extent of the problem and the potential for people to be affected. What I needed then was continuation of that work to arrive at exactly who, so that by 11 May there would be nobody who would pop up out of the woodwork that I did not know about. We have been through the process once, twice and three times and we are sure that we have got the problem scoped.

Senator TROOD —So the audit that will be completed by May is a continuation of the process that was begun in December, is that right?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —Yes.

Senator TROOD —It was to identify precisely the people who were affected. Can you give the committee any idea about the general number of people we might be looking at here?

Lt Gen. Gillespie —I did mention that in response—

Senator TROOD —You mentioned several figures: 105 et cetera.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —No, I just recently mentioned to Senator Johnston that the number of people who we believe are affected is in the order of 150. I am not going to lock that down to a set number because we are continuing to work it. And I expect that as we do recognition of prior learning, current competencies et cetera that number will drop considerably.

CHAIR —I have one further question. In your statement you said the DFRT determinations:

… included everything that we asked for. They did not include a transition period, simply because we did not ask for one.

As you would be aware, when wages and allowances are rolled into salary, a no-reduction principle is often applied. I take it that that did not apply when the original determination was brought down by the DFRT.

Lt Gen. Gillespie —It can happen in two ways. We can seek a non-reduction period because we know administrative work is necessary, or the remuneration tribunal can dictate that there is one. On this occasion they asked if we wanted it and we said no.

Proceedings suspended from 10.29 am to 10.48 am

CHAIR —We will resume the examination of estimates by the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I understand Senator Johnston wants to ask a question.

Senator JOHNSTON —I do want to move on to Afghanistan but, having spent so much time on this issue with the Chief of Army, I feel it is appropriate that I ask the minister: Minister, can you tell us what action and role the Minister for Defence—and I note now, the Prime Minister—has had with respect to this action? Can you tell us what directives have been issued and what direct involvement both of those people have had with respect to the resolution of this issue?

Senator Faulkner —I think I can give you some information. But I would say at the outset that I am not sure that what I can say to you is complete. You would appreciate that, I suppose, as a minister representing the Minister for Defence at the table I am not fully apprised of this, but I certainly will assist you where I can. I might need to draw on assistance from officials, if you wanted to progress any these matters. What I am aware of, and I think has been reinforced in the hearing here today, is that in October last year—and let me make it absolutely clear, that followed an examination on this issue at this estimates hearing—the Minister for Defence instructed that debt recovery action should cease. I am certainly aware that both CDF and Chief of Army have reinforced that today. I also note, as you have of course, that the Chief of Army then directed that all debt recovery action would cease from 13 November. From that time, as you know, Army have been conducting the audit, which you have asked questions about, to find out how many people have been affected.

You asked me about the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, like the defence minister, has given an assurance that no soldier will be financially disadvantaged by the process of implementing the DFRT’s determination on this issue of pay for special forces members. The other thing I think I can say to you is that I can assure you that dealing with fixing this issue is indeed a very high priority for the Minister for Defence. I certainly do have that level of knowledge. Obviously I do not have all the details at my fingertips in relation to all actions that are being taken, but I certainly hope that assists you.

Senator JOHNSTON —Do you know, Minister, if the Minister for Defence visited Campbell Barracks at all—or, indeed, Swanbourne—with respect to this issue?

Senator Faulkner —I certainly do not know that. I will seek some advice from CDF or any other witnesses at the table, if they can assist you. But I do not think you would be surprised to learn that I do not have that knowledge. Let me see if someone can assist you.

Senator JOHNSTON —Much obliged.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I think we will have to take that on notice. I cannot remember the minister going, but I need to check.

Senator JOHNSTON —Chair, could I go on to Afghanistan?

CHAIR —There being no further questions on this issue, we will go on to Afghanistan.

Senator JOHNSTON —Air Chief Marshal, what assessment have we made of the necessary strength for Oruzgan province, given—and please correct me if I am wrong in this—that we are assuming responsibility for that province on the departure of the Dutch next year? I believe it is 630,000 people and 23,400 square kilometres. I have heard some commentators talk of the manpower level necessary. What is the situation now and what do you anticipate it requires to be into the future to be at strength—that is, secure?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —That is quite a complex question. I think, first of all, what you will see in southern Afghanistan is that a much more regional approach will be applied to military operations across the south. So to some extent your question about how many for Oruzgan is really tied up with the surge that is about to take effect, where 17,000 additional troops are going to go into Afghanistan. A lot of those will go into the south—what I call the Pushtan south; the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Oruzgan and Zabul. You will also see a vast increase in the number of helicopters that are going to go into the Pushtan south, including some helicopter elements going into our province. So in terms of just focusing on Oruzgan, it is probably not what we would do. We are part of a coalition. Our forces are under the operational control of Commander ISAF, General McKiernan. General McKiernan is essentially developing a concept under his operational plan, his campaign plan, which looks at how all of the forces will be applied right across Afghanistan. But most importantly, his operational plan integrates the plans for Regional Command South, which of course incorporates those four provinces that I previously mentioned, including Oruzgan.

The Dutch have indicated in the past that they would pull out by the end of 2010, in fact cease operations around August 2010, but I guess that is a long way away and we will just have to wait and see what they actually do. In terms of leadership in the province, there are obviously possibilities, but I think the leadership of the province in the future is probably not going to be as important as perhaps it was in the past when there was a more provincial approach to the military operations that were conducted by ISAF. So I think what you are going to see is a more regional approach, and to some extent leadership in the province will not be the way it was when the Dutch moved in in the first instance.

Senator JOHNSTON —Where will the province be commanded from? What is the central strategic position? Is it Kandahar, Tarin Kowt, or one of the other provincial towns?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Commander ISAF commands all of the forces in Afghanistan from Kabul. He does that through a number of regional command areas. In our case, through the commander of Regional Command South, who lives in Kandahar with his headquarters. There is obviously a provincial reconstruction team established within Oruzgan. It is at Camp Russell, and it is there because it is in close proximity to the provincial capital, Tarin Kowt. In our province, we essentially work for the Dutch task force in Oruzgan.

Senator JOHNSTON —When do you anticipate the regional nature of the strategic command and approach to this province or this region will come into force? Firstly, when are you expecting to see the plan? Secondly, when do you think it will be implemented?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I think it is already coming into play. With 17,000 new American troops, I think you will see a lot of the empty spaces start to fill up and a greater capacity to clear and hold the ground. Also, closely associated with that is the development of the Afghan national army. That is a crucial part of all of this, and that is why so much effort and resource is going into the training and development and also the mentoring of the Afghan national army. If we and everybody else there can do our bit in developing the Afghan national army, we are going to end up in a situation—with the increase in American forces, the ISAFs, the increase in the Afghan national army and also increases in the Afghan national police over time—where we will have an ability to really put into effect General McKiernan’s counter insurgency approach, which is shape, clear, hold and build. His campaign plan really reinforces the importance of doing that.

Senator JOHNSTON —Are you saying that we will no longer have an area, region or province that will be our responsibility into the future?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I think you know at the moment the Dutch lead in Oruzgan, we support them, but there is also a number of smaller nations that are there as well. The provinces will still be there and there will probably still be a requirement for a provincial reconstruction team, but I think over time what you will see is the regions become the fighting area rather than the provinces.

Senator JOHNSTON —What I think the committee would be interested in is looking at the strength deployed vis a vis area and population, such that we can ascertain the capacity of that strength—whether it is overstrength, understrength or at strength. Several commentators have disclosed what strength is in terms of this particular country: 20 well-trained NATO soldiers per 1,000 people. I want to benchmark and understand our contribution such that we can be comfortable and confident that we are secure with respect to our deployment. Could you tell me what basis of calculation, with respect to that type of analysis, we are undertaking such that the committee could be satisfied that we are at strength?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —First of all I would say that is not the way it would be done. Let me put it another way. What you are seeing at the moment, right now there are 56,420 coalition troops, foreign troops, in Afghanistan. With the reinforcement of the 17,000, you will end up with 72,000 American, European, ISAF troops. On top of that, there is a lot of work going on to develop the Afghan national army. The eventual target in the Afghan national army is 134,000. That is still some time away, but I think you can see that in the fullness of time we are probably going to see something in excess of 200,000 troops there who will be involved in this counter insurgency and implementing the concept that the operational commander, General McKiernan, has developed. In terms of what will happen, right now, if you have a look at what has been happening in Pushtan south up until now, the coalition dominates particular territory. For example, in Oruzgan we are very prominent in what I would call the Tarin Kowt bowl, but we have a lot of other areas which are ungoverned spaces which provide sanctuary for the Taliban. With the increase in troop numbers, that will provide a really good launch pad to do the clear, hold and then build and deliver services to the people of Afghanistan. That will take place over time, and to a large extent the number of troops that you have will determine how much of the area of Afghanistan you can prevail over.

Senator JOHNSTON —What concerns me about the 200,000 plus 72,000 calculation is that RAND Corporation, for instance, in their analysis said 20 NATO soldiers per 1,000 population. We would be far and away below their assessment, and indeed some other assessments, with respect to what is required. What I am rather more concerned about is not the broader picture, but our picture. I am asking you to give us some evaluation of the current circumstances we are confronting by population and area in terms of strength.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Again, most of these reinforcements that are coming from the United States will go into the south and the east. There are lots of areas, such as the northern part of Afghanistan that probably do not need extensive reinforcement. Where you need the forces on the ground are in the more demanding areas. Most of the incidents happen in 10 per cent of the districts. Those 10 per cent of the districts are in the Pashtun south—the provinces where we are—and in the east. So my assessment is that with the build-up of American forces—and who knows how many more will follow—and the development of the Afghan national army, I think you are going to see a really good platform to achieve success in the long term in Afghanistan, and particularly in our area.

Senator JOHNSTON —Of the 17,000, how many are going to be relevant to our area of operations?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —At this stage, I am not aware of that, because I think the first priority for the operational commander is to focus on the border with Pakistan. That is one thing that we have seen since General McKiernan went into the job—and, by the way, I have a very fine opinion of General McKiernan. I think he is a very capable and very talented general and we have seen lots of good things happen since he got into the job. His campaign plan has given a coherence to the military operations that are being conducted. It has been really good to see. So a lot of those troops will probably go into the southern part of the Pashtun south and along the border. General McKiernan is also spending a lot of time engaging the Pakistanis and the Afghan national army in a joint coordinated approach on the border.

Senator JOHNSTON —Helicopters are another issue that I see that the Americans are providing. How many helicopters of the, I think, 98 additional helicopters that are going to the Oruzgan region are we going to have access to, and what are the conditions of that access?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —What is going in is a combat aviation brigade which consists of about 100 helicopters and just under 3,000 people. A lot of those helicopters are going into the south. What the breakup is between the south and the east I do not know. That will be up to General McKiernan. But, associated with that, I would stress that we are also redeploying our rotary wing group and we will contribute two Chinooks, which is a substantial contribution in terms of Afghanistan because that is the helicopter of choice for all the forces that are deployed there. Our Chinooks will be co-located with the combat aviation brigade that goes in, and the way the helicopters are operated is that they are pooled and they are available to satisfy the highest operational priorities. What that means is that, if our people are doing a particularly demanding operation, which attracts that sort of priority, we will get the helicopter support.

In addition to that, one of the other things that is going on is a dramatic increase in the number of aero-medical evacuation helicopters. That is probably to be expected, given the huge increase in huge numbers. But it is a large increase. It also includes three field surgical teams that will be deployed throughout the area. There will be a much more extensive aero-medical evacuation service available to the forces that are deployed in the south.

Senator JOHNSTON —Thank you for that. Could you take us through what we have available to us now and what you anticipate being available to us following the deployment of these additional helicopters. How many are you expecting will be deployed for aero-medical evacuation?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Fundamentally, the number of AME helicopters will double over the period, so it will go up to about 30 AME helicopters.

Senator JOHNSTON —So we have 15 available to us now?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Something like that.

Senator JOHNSTON —Where are they based?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —All over the south.

Senator JOHNSTON —So the flight times to areas of our operations vary depending on where those helicopters are available and located.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —The location of the helicopters has been very carefully planned so that all areas of ISAF operation are reasonably well covered. Daykundi, for example, is a Hazara province to the north of Oruzgan. That part of Afghanistan, the Hazara part, has less violence and fewer issues. As a consequence, there are no AME helicopters up there. But where we have a lot of operational activity, we have helicopters all over the south and indeed the east to ensure that there is responsive support available to troops who are involved in combat operations or indeed reconstruction operations in Afghanistan.

Senator JOHNSTON —I note that in the Australian last Friday the minister said that he has been concerned for some time now about aero-medical evacuation times. Are you concerned?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —When we have a look at what has happened over the period that we have been deployed, we have been very well supported by our allies. I have been satisfied with the support that we have been getting. Having said that, the NATO standard is basically two-hours—one hour to provide a resuscitation capability, which could be in the field or in the helicopter, and then two hours to get the individual to hospital. One of the things that this increase in aero-medical evacuation helicopters is designed to achieve is a shortening of that time. The NATO standard is still two hours, but what you will see is a more responsive service than perhaps we have had in the past. I welcome that.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can you confirm that we have an interoperable bandwidth capability to request that aero-medical support when it is required in a reliable and timely way?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Yes. I am advised that we have not had any major issues with communications in terms of requesting AME support.

Senator JOHNSTON —Are we undergoing any training in or are we aware of the necessary protocols to be interoperable with coalition aero-medical providers? Given that there are so many NATO members, some of whom are providing helicopters, including the Americans, what process do we go through to see that we employ the correct protocols in each of the instances when there is a different country’s helicopter available for aero-medical evacuation? Language and other things are obviously of concern.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Nearly all of the support that we have had on aeromedical evacuation has been provided by our American friends. We are totally interoperable with the Americans. I could go into the detail of it but I probably will not because some of it is a little bit sensitive. But we are well rehearsed and well practised at requesting AME support. Our people are expert at requesting that support when it is needed.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is it exclusively American support?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —It has been up to now but of course, given the way helicopters work, if you happened to have a helicopter that was in the area at the time of an incident it might be that other helicopter that might be used. But in most instances we rely on the AME service provided by our American friends. To give you an example, our Chinooks have from time to time been involved in AME support. There was a rather unfortunate incident when they first got there whereby a coalition aircraft dropped ordnance on a Canadian company. We happened to be close by and we ended up evacuating most of the wounded. That was because we were well placed to respond. Being a multiple casualty situation where there were, I think, upwards of 25 people wounded, what you needed was a Chinook rather than the standard AME helicopter. So a lot depends on circumstances. It is horses for courses and flexibility has to be applied.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can I talk about security at Camp Russell, CDF. Have we evaluated a C-RAM system?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —We have been looking at C-RAM systems for a long time. For the benefit of everybody here, they are counter-rocket, artillery and mortar systems. C-RAM is a system that has been deployed in certain instances to counter incoming artillery, rocket or mortar fire. Most of the systems that are around at the moment are still developmental. They still have a way to go to be fully effective. There are also some issues with them, some shortcomings with the existing systems. When we were in Iraq we used our old counter-artillery radars to assist with providing a capability to provide warning of incoming rounds. Of course we had a lot more incoming fire in Iraq than we have had in Afghanistan. The system really requires a sense-and-warning capability provided by some sort of 360-degree radar connected to some form of system that will engage incoming artillery, mortar or rockets. We have been watching the development of these capabilities for quite a while. Indeed, some of our people are going to Sweden to see a demonstration of a system that is under development. We will keep them under review.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is it the case that we sent an officer to the United States recently to review a system?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —We have been reviewing the systems that are being developed for some time. I think it is true to say that this is a new, emerging technology. Most of the systems are developmental at this time. We are most interested in that sort of capability.

Senator JOHNSTON —I note that the UK base and the US base both have a deployed multibeam 3D radar which is used not as an interception or defensive capability but simply as a warning system. Is it not the case that we should have such a similar system at Russell?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —The Dutch have a system, one that provides some warning, deployed at the moment.

Senator JOHNSTON —How effective is that given previous results?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —It provides warning.

Senator JOHNSTON —What is the nature of the warning? Is it a siren?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Basically, if it detects incoming a warning is given. I might add that you have got to look at this not just simply in terms of a radar. There are other things that we have up there that keep an eye out for somebody who might be going to fire at us. We have UAVs. UAVs are a very effective way of providing that warning. In Iraq we were very successful on a couple of occasions in sending UAVs out—same sort of UAVs we have got deployed in Afghanistan—finding people who were setting up a firing position and calling in an air strike. We were able to neutralise the indirect fire that was being set up. So that option is available to us in Afghanistan. Of course the other thing is that we go out and find the people who are actually doing that work. So it is a system approach to business. It just does not rely on a radar. There are lots of other tactics, techniques and procedures that you can use in these circumstances.

Senator JOHNSTON —I note the capability plan sets 2018 as a date for acquisition of such a system. I take it the Swedish visit indicates that we are bringing that forward and that if we were satisfied as to its capability and reliability we would deploy it.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I would not characterise it that way. I think what we are looking at is what is available. I mean to some extent we are keeping an eye out for a suitable system. I guess if something effective comes along we will take a close look at it.

Senator JOHNSTON —Can I ask about a Mr Tim Holding. Does the ADF have any relationship with him or is it supporting or has been asked to support any visit to Afghanistan by Mr Tim Holding? Are you familiar with that name?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I am not familiar with that name, Senator.

Senator JOHNSTON —Is anybody, to your knowledge, in the chain of command aware of that name?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I am not aware of it. I will take it on notice if you wish.

Senator JOHNSTON —Yes, if you would please. So no request has been received to provide support and close personal protection or anything else for a Mr Tim Holding.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Not to my knowledge.

Senator JOHNSTON —Recently the minister attended a NATO meeting in Poland. Can I ask how many members of our chain of command attended the meeting with him.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I was there and I was supported by one military officer, and the minister has a military ADC. So we had three military people there.

Senator JOHNSTON —In closing, when will it be the case that you will be able to tell the committee, in firm terms, what the strategic operational plan with respect to the ongoing insurgency in Afghanistan is insofar as the ADF is concerned? This is given the Americans’ change in direction—the surge et cetera.

—Let me just again emphasise that we are part of a NATO-run campaign. We are part of Commander ISAF—General McKiernan’s campaign. We are part of the RC South dispositions. We are deployed in Oruzgan, and we work under the task force Oruzgan. One of the things that I would like to get across to you today is that it all comes from the top. You may recall that the Prime Minister went to Bucharest with the Minister for Defence about this time last year—I think it might have been March, April or thereabouts—and the government leaders of the ISAF contributing nations signed up to ISAF’s strategic vision. Fundamentally, out of that came a comprehensive strategic, political and military plan, which was signed up to by the NATO ISAF defence ministers in 2008. That brought out the lines of operation used by everybody in Afghanistan. Those three lines of operations are security, governance and development. Out of that comes an OPLAN from the commander of the joint forces, who lives in the Netherlands in a place called Brunssum. Commander ISAF works through him, back to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Craddock.

The ISAF campaign plan is a very high quality document, and it has been around since General McKiernan got there. Some of our planners, who are embedded in his headquarters, assist him with the development of that plan. What that does in a very effective way is implement this shape, clear, hold, build counterinsurgency concept that is required in the Pushtan south. The RC South OPLAN is integrated into that campaign plan. So it is a totally integrated document. This is something that we welcome because, until this document came on the streets, there was not really anything that we could use to coordinate our efforts in Afghanistan with those of the Dutch and the other people who were in the province with us. That is why General Hindmarsh developed the OPLAN 2012; it was because there was a vacuum there.

What we have now is a comprehensive campaign plan that is totally integrated with the RC South planning activities, and it synergises the military and civilian efforts that are required to put into effect the counterinsurgency concept of General McKiernan’s. So it is a high quality document, and we are guided in what we do by it. Of course, the command of the operation comes from General McKiernan, through the chain of command through commander RC South, commander task force Oruzgan and down to our mentoring and reconstruction task force.

The special forces are under the direct operational control of General McKiernan. We have the largest special operations task group available to Commander ISAF in Afghanistan. It is a very highly valued capability, which is used to disrupt the Taliban who operate in our province. I might add that they have been spectacularly successful in keeping the Taliban on the back foot. If we look over the last 18 months or so, we have accounted for 21 Taliban leaders, one way or another, and that has been a very effective strategy.

The special operations task group to enhance the force protection for the Australian and Dutch people who are out there doing the construction, the training, the mentoring and so on. We now have Afghan national army units coming into the province. As a consequence of this, we are able to expand our influence and, if you like, start to hold more ground. What you have been seeing over the last 18 months is us move up, first of all through the Chora Valley, establishing a forward operating base in the Chora Valley and establishing patrol bases on the way up to the Chora Valley and also into the Baluchi Valley. We now have a presence in the Baluchi Valley. Our engineers, who are part of the mentoring and reconstruction task force, have done all the construction to put all of these forward operating bases and patrol bases into place. And of course these are the places where the Afghan national army Kandaks are deployed. Our OMLT, operational mentoring liaison team, go forward and are embedded in those Afghan units. So it is all coming together in a very effective way.

Senator JOHNSTON —With respect to the plan that you have mentioned, when was that published and when was it signed off by the commander in chief, USA? Has it been signed off by all NATO member countries? Does it disclose the requirement for their commitment?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —The plan I referred to is the campaign plan run by commander ISAF. I will take on notice the precise date that it was issued. But, fundamentally, we know this plan quite well, because we had people who were intimately involved in the development of the plan. It has filled a vacuum. One would not expect it to be cleared by government leaders, Defence ministers and the like. It was probably cleared at the commander joint forces level in Brunssum, but I would not have expected it to go much higher than that. General Craddock probably possibly cleared it as well. But in terms of the question of whether we are involved: yes, we are vitally involved, because our people have contributed to the plan, and we are very happy about it.

Senator JOHNSTON —What was the assumption of coalition troop numbers for the plan?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I am not across that level of detail. The plan probably is effective with a small number of troops or a large number of troops. It is a classical counter-insurgency plan.

Senator JOHNSTON —I am interested to note that you talk about the success we have had with respect to the Taliban, and yet I see last week we had the insurgents actually demolishing government buildings right in the middle of Kabul. I am led to understand that their communications were intercepted leading back into Pakistan, along very similar lines to what occurred in Mumbai. Could you disclose to us what influence you perceive is flowing from Pakistan across the border for these people?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —The border is very porous, and there are forces up in the border areas of Pakistan—Taliban, al-Qaeda, LET, militants, foreign fighters and all sorts of groups who find sanctuary up in those very inhospitable border areas. A lot of the activity that is conducted against the government of Pakistan, and also the government of Afghanistan, is conducted from those tribal lands along the border, and indeed areas in the west of Pakistan, in Balochistan.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —The border is very porous, and there are forces up in the border areas of Pakistan: Taliban, al-Qaeda, LET, militants, foreign fighters—all sorts of groups who find sanctuary up in those very inhospitable border areas. A lot of the activity that is conducted against the government of Pakistan, and also the government of Afghanistan, is conducted from those tribal lands along the border, and indeed areas in the west of Pakistan, in Balochistan. So you cannot consider Afghanistan without also considering Pakistan. Again, I met with General McKiernan about a month ago and was very impressed with his focus on that reality. He has put in place a lot of initiatives to improve the way we operate along the border. As I said, I would expect a lot of those troops to go into the border areas and set up border coordination centres. General McKiernan meets with the Chief of Army from Pakistan, General Kayani, and also with the CDF from Afghanistan, on about a monthly basis. The Pakistanis are patrolling the other side of the border and, again, it is all starting to become joined up.

I think it is true to say that the work that we, the US, the Brits and others are doing in Pakistan is very important because we need to assist Pakistan to develop its counterinsurgency capability and its counterterrorist capability. Of course we are seized with that need and have regular engagement with the Pakistani military. I conduct a strategic dialogue with them once a year. I will be meeting with them again here in Canberra later in the year. Last year I was in Pakistan—in Islamabad. So there is a lot of activity that is focused on Pakistan and the reality that the threat that is presented out of those tribal territories is as much a threat to Pakistan, in some respects, as it is to Afghanistan—as we have seen with some of the outrages that have occurred in Pakistan.

Senator JOHNSTON —What is the status of the Afghan National Army? How many are in the army? What is their training standard? How close are we getting to being able to put a high degree of responsibility upon their shoulders?

Air Chief Marshall Houston —The Afghan National Army is going well in its raising and its development. I think the development of the Afghan National Army and the development of the Afghan National Police are absolutely key to achieving long-term success in Afghanistan. Our American friends learned a lot in Iraq and they are applying the same lessons learned in Afghanistan. So what you see is a training organisation in Kabul headed up by General Formica with a very sharp focus on everything to do with developing and training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

What was achieved last winter is quite extraordinary—the Americans called it a ‘training surge’. I think they spent about $10 billion on training. The training that is given is supervised by competent members of the coalition. I think there is a lot of ‘training the trainers’ and we are seeing more and more Kandaks come off the production line. The exact number is quite fluid, but it is increasing all the time. If we go back a couple of years, the target was 80,000. The target is now 134,000 and I would anticipate that that target will be achieved in three or four years time. I will take on notice exactly what the numbers are, and I will come back probably a little later this morning or early afternoon.

Senator JOHNSTON —As a final question on this Afghanistan issue, can you give us an appraisal of how you see the status for this year? Is it static, is it improving or is it going to deteriorate?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I think the consensus is that this will be a very challenging year, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as I said in my opening remarks, there are elections in Afghanistan this year. The presidential election is currently scheduled for 20 August. As I said in my opening remarks I am sure the Taliban—the insurgents—would be as focused on those elections, as we are, and they will attempt to disrupt the process if they can. So providing security for the election will be a very high priority for General McKiernan and also for the Afghan government.

In terms of the campaign season that is about to start in a couple of month’s time I would anticipate that we will see an increase in the number of attacks. I think the preferred tactics that the insurgents will use will be to resort to improvised explosive devices as the weapon of choice, indirect fire and probably a reluctance to take the coalition on in direct firefights. That is how I would see it. I think that it will be a demanding campaign season but this year there will be more helicopters and more combat forces—both Afghan Kandaks that are coming up to speed in some of the provinces and also the American surge. You are going to see a lot more operational activity, a lot more fighting and a lot more violent incidents in the areas that are contested, particularly the Pushtan south.

Senator TROOD —It is very encouraging to hear you now speak of a plan in place as a result of General McKiernan’s arrival and there having been a vacuum filled from where we were previously. But I have some questions that arise in light of all that and which were not entirely clear from the responses you gave to Senator Johnston’s questions.

First of all I wondered whether or not the arrival of the American forces in the south is going to have any implications for the structure of the command that already exists there. Is it anticipated that there will be changes in the command structure?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —There have been changes in the recent past, which you are probably familiar with as being a rationalisation of the command arrangements. General McKiernan now commands all American forces that are deployed in Afghanistan. The operation Enduring Freedom and the ISAF operations are now joined up at his level. I think that was a very important move.

In terms of the arrival of the American forces, we will see the Regional Command South Headquarters become a larger and more capable headquarters. General McKiernan has put some experts in who are familiar with civil/military operations and they are very focused on what needs to be done on the softer side of the power equation.

In terms of the headquarters, it will remain a two-star headquarters, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves in the immediate future, but at the moment the commander rotates between the nations that are represented in the provinces. At the moment, we have a very capable Dutch general who runs Regional Command South. In November he will be replaced by a British general, and then a year later we will have an American general. Apart from that, I do not anticipate any major command changes.

Senator TROOD —Are any of these changes likely to affect the Australian command structure there?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —No. The issue for us is the one that was alluded to by Senator Johnston—that is, what happens if the Dutch leave and who takes command at that stage.

Senator TROOD —In light of the deployment of American forces in the area and the reference you have made to this wider regional operational plan, are Australian forces likely to range geographically more widely than they have done in the past?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —At the moment we are very focused on an area I call the Tarin Kowt bowl and the valleys that emanate from the bowl, particularly those in the north and north east. I would anticipate that there will be work there for quite some time, so we will be working there for the foreseeable future. I quickly add that from time to time our forces have deployed out of Oruzgan. I mentioned the bridge task we undertook, and of course that was just before Christmas. There was a problem with some of the bridges in the province of Zabol, so we went down and did the repair work. Previous to that, in August last year we had a 400-kilometre deployment from Tarin Kowt to repair bridges that had been taken down by the Taliban on Highway 1, which is the main supply route from Pakistan into Kandahar. It is also our supply line. We provided engineers to repair those bridges in a contested environment in both Zabol and in the province of Ghazni. Our guys did that wonderfully well and the mission was achieved much more quickly than we had anticipated and was done to everybody’s complete satisfaction. That not only took them out of the province but also took them into RC East because Ghazni is part of RC East.

Senator TROOD —So those kinds of operations are likely to continue where necessary. Does it follow from that and the arrival of a greater American force that there may be more combined operations between Australia and American forces?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —While we have been in Afghanistan, we have done a lot of operations through the years with others. At the moment we work very closely with the Dutch and just about everything we do is Australian-Dutch. I am talking about the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force in the main, and if an American unit is passing through part of our area on a clearing operation our special forces would support them and the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force would support them. Fundamentally, that is part and parcel of what you do in a coalition like this. At the moment, we are working very closely with the Afghans—we have Afghans with us on all of our operations—and that will be an increasing feature of our operations into the future.

Senator TROOD —I wanted to ask you about that matter because I am interested to know whether or not the arrival of the American forces might lead to a greater proportion of the Australian mission being expanded towards the training dimension of it, which you have frequently emphasised as being a very important part of our mission. Is that a likely consequence?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —What we are doing at the moment is very much focused on training and development, and I think that will continue. In fact, everything we are doing is very useful to the coalition because, to a large extent, the engineers enable the Afghan Kandaks because we create the structures, the forward operating bases and the patrol bases which are used by the Kandaks that we are helping to train. It enables them to go in and do the holding part of the strategy. We are able to then expand our influence further and further out from Tarin Kowt. In terms of what is likely to happen in the longer term, it probably means that, as the ink spot, if you like, expands out from Tarin Kowt we will start to get further and further out from Tarin Kowt.

Senator TROOD —Do we have an aim or objective as to the number of effective operational units we wish to create at the moment, or is it premature to think in those terms?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Again, all of that is coordinated by the operational commander, General McKiernan—obviously working very closely with General Formica. As General Formica turns them out of the training system, they need to be developed. In the first instance they need to walk before they run, so you employ them in tasks that are not overly demanding and continue the training process using those operational, mentoring and liaison teams. Over time, you build their capability, competence and confidence, and they become a very effective fighting unit.

Senator TROOD —Which is what we were doing in Iraq, as I understand it. When you gave evidence to the committee in the past in relation to Iraq you were able to tell us that there were some particular objectives in relation to the number of units that you were trying to create. Have you set any objectives for Australian forces in the area or are they part of wider regional objectives?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —They are part of a wider plan. When you look at the coalition you realise that we have just over 1,000 people in Afghanistan. We are really, in relative terms, making a substantial contribution—the ninth largest. Compared to the Americans, and increasingly the Afghans, our contribution is quite small. In terms of our ability to dictate what we want to train this particular element or that particular element, where we are at at the moment is providing an OMLT for a Kandak that is being raised in our province. I would expect us to be doing that for quite some time to come. There will be more Kandaks that come and there will be an ongoing requirement to develop and raise those Kandaks to operational capability.

Senator TROOD —You have spoken about the operational activities—the secure development governance dimension of it. You have spoken about the shape, clear, hold and build strategy. What seems to me to be absent from your analysis, CDF, is what the overall strategic objective is here. That seems to be shifting. You spoke about the highest level but, as I listen to some of the policy statements coming out of Washington and elsewhere, there seems to be a general review taking place as to what NATO’s and the IFF’s broad strategic objectives are in Afghanistan. They seem to have shifted from something which might be characterised as a very comprehensive strategy to try and reconstruct Afghanistan with a stable democratic government to something which is rather less than that at the moment, which has been characterised by various participants in the debate as being, in some cases, not much more than subduing the Taliban to a point where it does not pose a threat to American Western interests, broadly. I would be grateful if you could clarify what you understand the overall strategy to be and whether or not you regard that as an adequate strategy for our deployment there?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —First of all, I guess the reason I did not go there is that I do happen to have before me a highly classified document that is headed Australian strategic objectives for Afghanistan but, before I go there though, I think what I should do is indicate that this is a time of transition. It is a time of transition because we have a new administration in Washington that is very focused on Afghanistan. There are a large number of reviews; four going on at the moment. Those four reviews are going to now be brought together by a team led by a fellow called Riedel who over the next 60 days will bring together the outcome of all of those reviews. What has been embarked on here is really a clean-sheet-of-paper approach to the issue of Afghanistan. I think you have probably heard already with some of the testimony that Dr Gates has given in the congress that, instead of going for a Western style democracy with a Westminster face or whatever, we are not going there anymore, probably. What we are probably looking at are more achievable objectives and coming up with something that is a practical objective in the longer term.

I think, in terms of what the objective is, it is quite clear in my mind what our objectives are here. Why we are in this coalition is that we do not want to see Afghanistan used as a terrorist safe haven where they can do their training and then mount operations around the world like the attacks we have seen in the past in the United States and Bali. What we want to see is an Afghanistan that can exist in a secure way. It might not be a full-blown democracy. It might be something more practical. It might be something that reflects the tribal culture from whence it came. I think that all of that is on the table at the moment of just what is achievable in Afghanistan.

Obviously we want to create a viable state that can exist in that part of the world. It is a very challenging part of the world and that is part of the objective. Fundamentally what we do not want to see is groups like al-Qaeda able to operate with impunity in a place like Afghanistan. That means a government in Afghanistan that is probably democratic in nature but not probably in the form of a European democracy or the form of a classical Western democracy. It is more likely to be a democratic form of government which is more in line with the culture of Afghans.

Senator TROOD —I am grateful to you, CDF, for providing that outline. It seems to me that it is the clearest statement of Australia’s strategic objectives in Afghanistan that we have heard for a long time, and certainly more than we have heard from the minister’s contribution to this particular debate. Do you regard this as a more realistic strategic objective than the one we previously had when we went into Afghanistan?

Air Chief Marshall Houston —Are you saying the objective we had previously?

Senator TROOD —It seems to me, and perhaps we have different perspectives on this, that the objective we had when we went into Afghanistan originally—I do not mean shortly after the September 11 attacks but more recently—was a much more grand plan in relation to the future of the Afghanistan state. It now seems to me, as you have characterised it, from my own understanding of the evolving strategy and from Mr Riedel’s contribution, that there is a more modest expectation about a future Afghanistan, what it would look like and what sort of security environment we will have there which will protect our interests. It seems to me that that is a rather more modest expectation about Afghanistan’s future than the one we previously had. The question I have now is whether that is a more realistic expectation than the one we originally had.

Air Chief Marshall Houston —This is still in development.

Senator TROOD —I understand that.

Air Chief Marshall Houston —It is quite clear from statements made by people like Dr Gates that that seems to be where it is headed. I think that, whatever they define, it needs to be achievable. The creation of a European-style democracy in Afghanistan is probably an unrealistic expectation. I do not think it is achievable. It needs to be something that is achievable within the cultural setting in which we find ourselves in Afghanistan.

Senator TROOD —Are you confident that the Australian Defence Force can make a substantial contribution to that particular objective with the resources that are available to it?

Air Chief Marshall Houston —Absolutely. I think we are contributing substantially. We are in one of the more demanding parts of Afghanistan. Our people have been doing a really fine job over a long period of time. The work that the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force is doing has been very useful. In Tarin Kowt we have done a lot of reconstruction work; we have been improving the hospitals, the various government buildings, the schools and the roads. We have built a causeway across the waterway just outside of Tarin Kowt. All of that has been very well received. Of course, we also have the trade school, which has trained 500 young Afghans in trade skills. This means they now have a very useful livelihood, which will be good for Afghanistan because they will be able to use the skills they have gained to assist in the reconstruction of the country.

On the mentoring side, we are contributing to the training. We also have people in Kabul who are embedded within the headquarters and in the institutions. We have two people who are teaching counterinsurgency in one of the training schools in Kabul, and we are contributing substantially to where we need to go in the future. We are very happy with the leadership coming out of the International Security Assistance Force, ISAF. I think General McKiernan is a very capable and competent individual, and we like his style.

Senator TROOD —That is always rather helpful when you are dealing with these circumstances. Once this review in Washington is concluded, are you anticipating that that might result in calls for or expectations of increased Australian participation in Afghanistan?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I guess that remains to be seen.

Senator TROOD —Indeed it does, but I am asking whether or not you have an expectation. Being a person with considerable foresight, as I know you to be, I am sure you are able to answer that question.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —It is hypothetical, and, frankly, it is a matter for government anyway. So let us wait and see.

Senator TROOD —There is an element of hypothesis about it. Perhaps I can ask you if you are preparing for the possibility that there may be some need for Australia to make a further contribution after this has concluded.

Senator Faulkner —I do not think you have acknowledged that the question is a hypothetical one. You received a response from CDF. As you know and I know and every member of the committee knows, this is a decision that is appropriately made by government and it is not appropriate for CDF to speculate on it.

Senator TROOD —What I also know, Minister, is that as long as I have been on this committee, which I admit it is a relatively short time compared to some, and as long as CDF has been coming before the committee, he has made the point that the Australian Defence Force is constantly preparing for challenges which may lie ahead of it, and the request that may be made of it by government.

Senator FORSHAW —Then you know the answer.

Senator TROOD —I assume that, in the context of that preparedness, he has perhaps turned his mind, at least briefly, to the possibility that a request might be made.

Senator Faulkner —That is a good try, Senator, and in a way it reminds me of myself.

Senator TROOD —I am not sure I am flattered by that, Minister.

Senator Faulkner —I would be if I were you. It is the most generous thing I have said to a member of a committee for a very long time.

Senator TROOD —It is certainly the most generous thing you have said to a member of the opposition!

Senator Faulkner —But I can assure you that if there was a minister at the table who was listening to any of my questions, they would intercede at the time I interceded and made the sort of response I did, as you well know.

Senator LUDLAM —I want to pick up there. Can we take it categorically then that defence has not been asked by the government to prepare any sort of evaluation of whether Australia could make a larger troop commitment to Afghanistan?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —No, we have not been asked.

Senator LUDLAM —Is it still the expectation that Dutch forces will be withdrawing from Afghanistan in the near future?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —That is a bit of a vexed issue. If you have a look at what is on the public record, the Dutch parliament have indicated that the authorisation for the deployment finishes in August 2010. If my memory serves me correctly, there is an intent to leave Afghanistan at that stage. But those sorts of indications were made a long time ago, and, with the arrival of a new administration in Washington, we will just wait and see. It is a long time since that statement was made. The Dutch have been, I think, very effective in Oruzgan. They have worked very well with us and have done a great job. From my point view, to walk away now, having achieved so much, would be a disappointment for us because we worked so well with them and they have achieved so much.

Senator Faulkner —I can add to that. In answer to Senator Trood, I talked about something being a matter for government, which is an appropriate thing to say. This is also a matter for the Dutch government, as you would appreciate. I think that point is worth reinforcing here. You often hear ministers at the table say, ‘This is a matter for government’, meaning a matter for the Australian government, but we need to acknowledge that there is another sovereign government involved here that makes decisions in its own interests. It is proper for me to say that in that way and not speculate on it further, in the same spirit of the little interchange between myself and Senator Trood.

Senator LUDLAM —That is okay. I was just wondering. The decision might have been taken some time ago, but this speculation has been ongoing. I am wondering if that is figuring into your forward planning, because I understand the Dutch play quite a significant role in supporting the ADF commitment there.

Air Chief Marshal Houston —All I will say is we prepare for every eventuality.

CHAIR —Are there further questions arising out of the opening statement by CDF?

Senator TROOD —I have questions about East Timor. CDF, you mentioned East Timor briefly in your remarks. I want to clarify whether or not we are now down to 650 as a force in East Timor. Is that correct? I understood the number was going to be reduced by early this year. Have we reached that point?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —We have reached that point now. We pulled a company out very early in the new year, and we now have 650 people deployed in Timor.

Senator TROOD —Is it likely they are going to remain for the foreseeable future, or are there plans to reduce the force even further at this stage?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —The reason we pulled the company out was because things had stabilised, as indicated in my opening address. Everything we do is based on the conditions that are on the ground. So, again, we will see how things go in Timor over time. I would imagine the government will assess those conditions and, based on our advice, we will make judgements perhaps when we draw down further. At this stage, no further decisions have been made.

Senator TROOD —You are generally reassured by the direction of events in Timor, unlike Afghanistan, for example?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —Since the outrage on 11 February last year, things have gone pretty well. Things have been good and there has not been any extensive violence. I think the government is doing a good job, and things are going along very nicely at the moment.

Senator TROOD —There have been some references in the press to some complaints about Australian soldiers in East Timor, about their behaviour at the end of last year in relation to some families as I understand it. There is a headline in one newspaper about ‘East Timor uneasiness on troops’. I was wondering if you had anything to say on that subject?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —I am not sure about the circumstances you refer to.

Senator TROOD —Apparently, there have been some complaints about the behaviour of Australian soldiers in East Timor. I am not sure whether or not these are recent, but they seem to be complaints from the end of last year. I wondered whether or not any further complaints had to come to your attention. Perhaps this was a misreporting of the behaviour. Let me put it this way: do you have any reason for concern about the behaviour of Australian forces in East Timor?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —From time to time we will have something happen, usually a consequence of youthful exuberance, but in the main I am very happy with the professionalism of our people and the way they behave. Indeed, President Ramos-Horta, Prime Minister Gusmao and General Ruak have indicated to me that they are very happy with our presence and the way we conduct ourselves.

Senator TROOD —So there have been no particular incidents that have been drawn to your attention that have required particular investigation?

Air Chief Marshal Houston —No, not at all. From time to time somebody will do something silly—overexuberance is usually involved—but, in terms of circumstances where people have behaved badly towards the population, I am only aware of one incident in the very recent past where there has been any issue at all. That was quite recently. Before that, I cannot recall anything that has been brought to my attention, which indicates, I think, that things have been going quite well. I will certainly have a look at that, if you like.

Senator TROOD —Thank you. I am gratified by your assurance.

[12.16 pm]