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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
28/10/2021
Estimates
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

[09:01]

CHAIR: I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, and welcome Ms Kathryn Campbell to her first estimates as secretary of the department. I also welcome officers from the department. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Payne: Briefly, Chair, yes please. Thank you very much, and let me also acknowledge the new Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kathryn Campbell, and welcome her to the role and to her first estimates in this capacity, although it's fair to say that she's a veteran of not only estimates but many other things, with a distinguished Public Service career and, indeed, a distinguished military career. I look forward to her stewardship of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Chair, before we commence the proceedings today, I do want to make a short reference to a significant event in Australian foreign policy, last night's historic first annual ASEAN-Australia summit, which was attended by the Prime Minister. Chair, last night ASEAN leaders agreed to Australia's proposal to enhance relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership. This is indeed a significant milestone. It reflects the strength of our partnership and of our ties as neighbours. This government, as I have said many times, has ASEAN at the heart of our Indo-Pacific strategy. Australia is ASEAN's first dialogue partner, and this is the first time ever that ASEAN leaders have agreed to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with a bilateral partner. Enhancing our relationship to a CSP will, importantly right now, help us to address the complex and emerging regional challenges together and also position our partnership for the future. It is, by any review of the chair's statement of the first summit, about substance and about deeper cooperation, and we look forward to working with our ASEAN partners to implement this new partnership.

To mark this new chapter and to support this cooperation, Australia has indicated we'll invest $154 million into our programs with ASEAN: the new $124 million Australia for ASEAN Futures Initiative; 100 Australia for ASEAN Scholarships, to support leaders; and an Australia for ASEAN Digital Transformation and Future Skills Initiative, including VET scholarships. This does sit alongside other significant initiatives of recent times in security, in foreign policy and in development. They include the AUKUS partnership, which I'm confident we will talk about today; the first in-person Quad leaders summit held two years after the first Quad Foreign Ministers' Meeting, which I attended in New York with my counterparts from India, Japan and the United States in 2019; the holding of four two-plus-two ministerial meetings across the Indo-Pacific last month; our efforts in solidarity with the European Union, for example, against malicious cyber activity; and the convening and co-chairing of the fourth virtual Pacific Women's Leaders Network Meeting. All of those were in the context of COVID-19, which has of course made the work of diplomats across our network and of our system that much harder but that means we have stepped up the effort that much more.

We're taking the very positive approach of strengthening our networks of partners to foster a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific and that is our focus. I commend the chair's statement for the first ASEAN Australia Summit of 27 October 2021 to the committee. I commend and thank particularly Brunei Darussalam for their leadership and their chairing of ASEAN during this difficult COVID-19-impacted year.

CHAIR: Ms Campbell, would you like to make an opening statement?

Ms Campbell : No, thank you.

Senator WONG: Secretary, welcome to your first estimates. It is a tough time in foreign policy, and I look forward to engaging with you. Minister, I welcome the comprehensive strategic partnership. It is an excellent initiative and very pleasing at this time.

Senator Payne: Thank you.

Senator WONG: I want to go first to the AUKUS partnership and the department's engagement. I don't know if other officers may wish to come to the table. I think you commenced in DFAT in July?

Ms Campbell : Yes, I was appointed on 22 July but was just finishing some leave, so I commenced in the department on 26 July.

Senator WONG: Was the AUKUS partnership included in your incoming brief?

Ms Campbell : I was briefed on 27 July on the AUKUS partnership.

Senator WONG: Was that including the nuclear propulsion point and the partnership point or only the latter?

Ms Campbell : I was briefed on the package.

Senator WONG: And that was on 27 July?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator WONG: At the last estimates, I had a very useful aid summary from the CFO. It is headed: 'Senator Wong ODA Budget 3 June 2021 Responses' and it lists the ongoing base excluding temporary and targeted, lists the temporary targeted, goes to indexation and GNI. I wonder if I could again request to truncate any aid questioning, if this could be updated?

Ms Campbell : The officers will be listening to that.

Sen ator WONG: I assume they may well have done it because they often do but if they can provide that then I will truncate the ODA part of the questions. Yesterday, at Defence estimates, Senator Payne, you were briefed first or became aware of the AUKUS partnership in March or May?

Senator Payne: I was briefed in early 2021, early this year on the work the Prime Minister had commissioned.

Senator WONG: Was it March or May?

Senator Payne: It was January.

Senator WONG: Oh, January. So you were briefed personally in January—

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: that the Prime Minister had commissioned the capability assessment of the submarines?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: When were you first aware of the possibility of the AUKUS partnership? When were you first advised of that?

Senator Payne: I think around May, as we were saying.

Senator WONG: I thought I remembered an 'm' month yesterday. Were you not briefed in January because it wasn't in contemplation then?

Senator Payne : There's obviously a great deal of sensitivity about the matters that were being considered, that the Prime Minister had commissioned. It was a growing process, if you like, as the initiatives were stepped out.

Senator Payne: I wondered why the foreign minister wasn't briefed until May on the AUKUS partnership?

Senator Payne: The developments, as they were considered—sorry, not too articulate—

Senator WONG: End of sitting period.

Senator Payne: meant that was the time that the partnership itself was briefed more broadly.

Senator WONG: Mr Hayhurst, when were you brought in?

Mr Hayhurst : I was briefed about a proposed trilateral defence technology partnership in May and I was briefed on the submarine matter on 15 June.

Senator WONG: Yesterday we heard there was a set of NSC and cabinet considerations between June and September. Who else in the department after you were briefed was engaged on both of those components? There are two aspects, aren't there? There's a partnership and then there's the submarine issue, which has sensitivities associated with the French contract. When was the department or people in the department made aware of those components?

Mr Hayhurst : A small handful of people were briefed in May about the partnership.

Senator WONG: In your division or across the department?

Mr Hayhurst : In different parts of the department. And then, from late June, and in advance of the announcement, select numbers of other officers were briefed.

Senator WONG: Obviously, the sequencing of the announcement and diplomatic engagement are important issues. At any point, was DFAT asked to provide advice to government about the diplomatic handling of the announcement?

Mr Hayhurst : Yes.

Senator WONG: When did you provide that advice?

Mr Hayhurst : Well, we were working in the lead-up to the announcement.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to get timeframes here.

Mr Hayhurst : We will get to that. From the point of being briefed in on the announcement and other officers being briefed from late June, we were engaged with Defence on those matters. There were issues for DFAT that were relevant—diplomatic engagement, counter proliferation, international legal questions. We were involved in providing advice in preparation for that.

Senator WONG: There are a whole range of questions about capability and NPT et cetera. I'm not asking about that; I'm asking a reasonably specific set of questions about the handling of engagement with non-AUKUS countries of the announcement. I'm asking: when did you provide advice to government first about the handling of that?

Mr Hayhurst : From late June and leading up to the time of the announcement.

Senator WONG: Did you provide the advice in writing?

Mr Hayhurst : Some of our advice was in writing.

Senator WONG: Did you advise that Indonesia should be told of the decision to acquire nuclear-propelled submarines before the announcement?

Mr Hayhurst : We spoke about a range of options for advising important partner governments given that some of these matters were considered by cabinet and NSC ministers. But we were fully engaged on all of those plans and preparations.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to understand if it was just that the government didn't listen to you or whether your advice was poor. Was it your advice to advise the Indonesians as late as they were advised?

Mr Hayhurst : Our advice was that some countries would need to be advised in a matter the government deemed appropriate about the announcement and that's the advice we provided.

Senator WONG: Was it your advice people should wait until after this matter had become public online before the Indonesian government was advised?

Mr Hayhurst : If I may: we provided advice for the government to consider about the diplomatic handling of this announcement and this initiative. The specific details, as I say, were part of a wider cabinet process. We worked on it jointly with Defence and provided extensive advice to the government, for it to consider, and the government made decisions.

Senator WONG: Did you give advice that the Indonesians should be told before the matter became public?

Senator Payne: I think Mr Hayhurst is setting out for you the engagement of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade from June in relation to, as you say, the diplomatic communications plan. I would suggest the advice which was provided to cabinet for this matter, and the specific details of which country, and when, and yes or no, is advice that was provided to cabinet. I don't expect the officer to go into those details.

Senator WONG: You can answer the question, then. Whatever criticisms some people have of DFAT, I can't imagine their advice was the sort of diplomatic handling the government actually engaged in.

Senator Payne: That's your opinion.

Senator WONG: Was it your decision to not contact Retno Marsudi until the matter was already public and online? Was that your personal decision?

Senator Payne: As is public, it was indicated in meetings in Indonesia that the government had an imminent announcement of significance, that it flowed from the work that had been done comprehensively in the Defence strategic update in 2020, and that, following our meetings in Jakarta, I would go back to the foreign minister, the Prime Minister would speak to the Indonesian President and the defence minister would speak to Minister Prabowo Subianto as well. They were contacted the day before the formal announcement in relation to the announcement itself.

Senator WONG: Can you confirm that your contact to the foreign minister, in relation to this, was at around 11 pm Canberra time by text message? Can you confirm that was the first time you actually contacted her about the detail of the announcement, and can you confirm that, at the time you did, this matter was already in the online news?

Senator Payne: As you would be aware, the timing of the announcement coincided with the commencement of the UN General Assembly Leaders Week. Although I indicated to the foreign minister I needed to speak to her by message, she was literally travelling at the time. As soon as she landed, we spoke in person. That was the difficulty in terms of the timing. But she was aware I would be in touch in relation to a significant announcement, and I made that commitment personally.

Senator WONG: Do you agree it is the case a conversation didn't occur until 11 pm?

Senator Payne: I was in the United States, on the east coast. The foreign minister was in the United States, as I recall, on the west coast. I don't recall exactly what time it was in Australia.

Senator WONG: It was after the matter was already public and reported online.

Senator Payne: Certainly, it was before the announcement by the leaders—

Senator WONG: But it leaked. After the briefing we had, while I was in the plane, we started seeing stuff online.

Senator Payne: So did we.

Senator WONG: Yes. So this was after that, that you spoke to her?

Senator Payne: I made contact at a prearranged time with her office, which is the way such things usually occur.

Senator WONG: Would you not agree it was after the matter had become public?

Senator Payne: I don't believe it was the government's intention that the matter become public.

Senator WONG: But that's what happened, isn't it?

Senator Payne: The President and the Prime Minister spoke—

Senator WONG: Can you please answer the question? For whatever reason, you've explained the context. You didn't actually speak to the foreign minister till late on the night before the announcement, by which stage it was already in Australian and, from memory, international news?

Senator Payne: There had been no official announcement.

Senator WONG: That's true; I agree with that. First: can you agree with that?

Senator Payne: I'm not being difficult here; I actually don't have the Australian time zone, the west coast of the US time zone and the east coast of the US time zone in my head immediately.

Senator WONG: I wonder if your office can work that out during this hearing and come back to us—

Senator P ayne: I'm sure they can.

Senator WONG: and tell us when you spoke to Foreign Minister Marsudi.

Senator Payne: I've indicated when that was.

Senator WONG: Can I ask this, then: have the Indonesians raised concern about the lateness of the advice?

Senator Payne: The foreign minister discussed this matter at an Asia Society meeting she did with former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. She indicated that, as I have said here this morning, I had advised her I would need to contact her again about an imminent announcement. She has put that on the record.

Senator WONG: Have the Indonesians indicated any concern about the lateness of the announcement at any level, at ministerial level or to your office?

Senator Payne: Not directly to me.

Mr Hayhurst : Not to my knowledge. In terms of 'at any level', I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Then someone's not talking to you!

Senator Payne: The deputy secretary said 'not directed to him', and he would take that on notice.

Senator WONG: When did you become aware of the timing of Foreign Minister Marsudi's conversation with Foreign Minister Payne?

Mr Hayhurst : Either simultaneous with or not long after it took place.

Senator WONG: So you weren't part of setting it up?

Mr Hayhurst : I was not involved in setting up that phone call.

Senator WONG: Were DFAT asked to set out a plan of engagement with Indonesia ahead of the AUKUS announcement?

Mr Hayhurst : We were involved, as part of the cabinet consideration—

Senator WONG: No, don't give me your process answer, Mr Hayhurst. Did you—

Mr Hayhurst : I'm just explaining, in answering the question.

Senator WONG: Let me finish my question, because I think your answer is non-responsive. Did you set out a plan?

Mr Hayhurst : We had a plan.

Senator WONG: What was your plan?

Mr Hayhurst : We advised the government about arrangements it could make to advise partner governments—some prior to the announcement, some immediately after the announcement.

Senator WONG: I want to know who was in each category. Indonesia, I assume, was in the 'prior' category; correct?

Mr Hayhurst : It was advised before the announcement, correct.

Senator WONG: No; you gave me a factual answer about what occurred. I asked you whether Indonesia was in the category of those who were to be advised prior.

Mr Hayhurst : It was, yes.

Senator WONG: Was it your understanding that the government would actually advise so late at ministerial level?

Mr Hayhurst : Our advice gave options for the government to advise partner governments, some before and some after. The precise timing was a matter for ministers.

Senator WONG: Did your options include giving Retno Marsudi a call after it had become public?

Senator Payne: I think you have agreed, and I stated clearly for the record, that the timing of the formal announcement was the point from which the engagement strategy, the engagement and contacts, was planned. As you say, after a briefing was done the matter was reported online but not officially announced. As we were able to, we made those contacts. They were 'booked', if you like, or arranged between officers to do that.

Senator WONG: Mr Hayhurst didn't answer my question. I'm putting it to you that none of the options you put to government included the foreign minister of Indonesia being advised after the matter became public.

Mr Hayhurst : Our advice was about the official announcement of the government's decision.

Senator WONG: Is that an answer to my question?

Mr Hayhurst : You asked about our advice. Our advice relates to the official announcement. We didn't factor in or think about media speculation or other things like that.

Senator WONG: How long before the official announcement did you suggest that Indonesia should be advised?

Senator Payne: It was an agreed plan for the contact between the foreign minister, the defence minister and the Prime Minister, with counterparts across a range of countries, and the timing on that, which was anchored around the timing of the official announcement.

Sena tor WONG: Where's that agreed plan?

Senator Payne: It's a cabinet document.

Senator WONG: Did it actually pick up—

Senator Payne: It was prepared for cabinet ministers.

Senator WONG: By DFAT?

Senator Payne: By agencies including DFAT, yes.

Senator WONG: Did you comply with the plan?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Did all of the government comply with the plan?

Senator Payne: As far as I know.

Senator WONG: From people across the political spectrum, the diplomatic handling of this has been heavily criticised. I'm trying to understand: was it a bad plan, or was it a plan that was poorly executed?

Senator Payne: I don't agree with either of your propositions.

Senator WONG: They're not just mine.

Senat or Payne: They're yours right here and now, and I don't agree with them.

Senator WONG: So the plan was fine? And the plan was that Foreign Minister Marsudi would be called after?

Senator Payne: No. That was clearly not the case, and you are misleading if you continue to say that.

Senator WONG: Which bit is misleading?

Senator Payne: That the intention of the government was not to advise before the matter was formally announced, because, clearly, that was the intention of the government. As you've indicated—

Senator WONG: But you didn't plan it so that they were—

Senator Payne: As you've indicated, after the opposition were briefed, when you yourself were on a plane, there were media reports, and that is the matter that you've pointed to. But the official announcement was to be preceded, and was preceded, by contacts with a number of key partners.

Senator WONG: Is it your assessment, your evidence to this committee, that you think it was acceptable or regrettable that the Indonesian foreign minister was contacted after the matter became public?

Senator Payne: Actually, I would say that it is regrettable that the matter became the subject of media briefing—

Senator WONG: I agree. As the extensive briefing to the paper about information I wasn't aware of—the papers in the morning. But let's leave that aside.

Senator Payne: That's what I would say.

Senator WONG: Yes. But is it acceptable or regrettable to you, as the foreign minister of Australia, that the foreign minister of Indonesia only became aware of this after this matter had become public?

Senator Payne: As I have said to you this morning, I had taken steps to indicate to—

Senator WONG: You never do anything wrong, do you, Senator Payne.

Senator Payne: Well, I'm not able to finish a sentence, that's for sure.

Senator WONG: You really never do. I think it's fine to say it's regrettable; of course it's regrettable. There is a—

Senator Payne: I would much prefer that, after briefings had happened, matters had not been canvassed in the media before the formal announcement, given that the timing of the formal announcement was the point from which we were engaging with a number of key partners on what are some of the most sensitive decisions and announcements that a government can make in relation to sovereign defence strategy. I think that is regrettable. That is why we had a formal strategy in place, based on the timing of the announcement, to brief those key partners. That is why I indicated to a number of partners, including all of the partners with whom we met during those travels—Indonesia, India and Korea—that we would have another significant announcement to make, flowing from the Defence Strategic Update and the work which the Prime Minister had commissioned.

Senator WONG: So you're not going to answer the question?

Senator Payne: I think I've answered the question comprehensively.

Senator WONG: Do you regret that circumstances meant that Foreign Minister Marsudi, the foreign minister of a country which is critical to our relationship with the region, was only advised after these matters became public?

Senator Payne: I am absolutely committed to Australia's relationship with Indonesia, and I work as closely with Foreign Minister Marsudi as any of my counterparts anywhere, but particularly in the region. The work that she and I do together is something that I think has had a very beneficial impact in the region. However, it is unhelpful, absolutely, that matters were ventilated in the media after briefings were given. I don't support that, and I had indicated that an announcement was being made. I took every step to speak to the foreign minister as soon as I could.

Senator WONG: Mr Hayhurst, can you tell me which countries you advised ought to be advised prior to public announcement?

Mr Hayhurst : I don't have the full list.

Senator WONG: You're a smart gentleman. I'm sure you can remember.

Mr Hayhurst : Indonesia obviously, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, India, France and Canada.

Senator WONG: Japan?

Mr Hayhurst : Not all of those necessarily by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Senator WONG: Sure. I'm not asking how; I'm just asking whom. Is Japan not on that list?

Mr Hayhurst : Japan's on that list, yes.

Senator WONG: Anyone else? Indonesia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, India, France, Canada and Japan.

Senator Payne: And the IAEA.

Mr Hayhurst : The director-general; that's right.

Senator WONG: We've done Indonesia. I'm clear about what happened with New Zealand. Before I go to the detail of France, in relation to the Republic of Korea, India, Canada and Japan, could you tell me how that briefing was communicated or how that communication was given effect and at which level and when?

Mr Hayhurst : Minister Payne spoke to the ROK, Canada and India.

Senator WONG: When did that occur?

Senator Payne: The defence minister also spoke to those counterparts.

Senator WONG: So you spoke to the Republic of Korea, India and Canada prior to the announcement? I think that was Mr Hayhurst's evidence.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Can you give me details of each of those three?

Senator Payne: On 15 September.

Senator WONG: The morning of the 16th is the announcement, correct?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: When on the 15th did you speak to each of those and at which level? I assume your counterpart level.

Senator Payne: Foreign minister level, and I'll take on notice the times. They were east coast US times, so I'll clarify that.

Senator WONG: Were those calls made before or after you spoke to Foreign Minister Marsudi?

Senator Payne: Around the same time, I think.

Senator WONG: Some before, some after?

Senator Payne: Around the same time, I think, but I'll check for you.

Senator WONG: Japan? How were they advised, Mr Hayhurst?

Mr Hayhurst : Japan was advised by the Prime Minister. That's in the public domain, and that was prior to the announcement.

Senator WONG: We'll come to France shortly. In addition to foreign minister contact, in relation to Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, India, Canada and the PM's contact with Japan, what DFAT contact was there?

Mr Hayhurst : We spoke to governments after the announcement. Ministers made some calls prior to the announcement.

Senator WONG: So you didn't speak to anyone prior to the announcement? I'm trying to understand if there was a tandem of minister to minister and then at official level. Can you just tell me how that played out?

Mr Hayhurst : With bilateral partner governments, it's at ministerial level. The prenotification to the International Atomic Energy Agency was through officials.

Senator WONG: I'm asking about partner governments. So there was no official level contact until after the ministerial level contact?

Mr H ayhurst : Officials engaged after the announcement.

Senator WONG: Can I get the sequence of the advice to France, please? Was the first engagement with the French the Prime Minister's text message to President Macron about the actual announcement? Obviously there was a lot of engagement, because we've previously had a very strong partnership et cetera. I'm asking about the announcement. Was the first advice of the announcement the Prime Minister's text message to President Macron on the evening of the 15th?

Mr Hayhurst : The minister spoke to her counterpart. I'm not sure about the sequencing in relation to the Prime Minister's communication and the minister's communication.

Senator WONG: Was the plan in relation to France to have only ministerial or prime ministerial contact before officials engaged?

Mr Hayhurst : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Was the plan in relation to France to ensure they were briefed ahead of the announcement?

Mr Hayhurst : That's correct also.

Senator WONG: Was the plan in relation to France that the Prime Minister, Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs would speak to their counterparts before this matter became public?

Mr Hayhurst : Prior to the announcement those ministers were to contact their counterparts.

Senator WONG: Is there anyone else at ministerial level or just them?

Mr Hayhurst : To my knowledge it is just those ministers.

Senator WONG: When did you become aware that the Prime Minister had sent a text message to President Macron, Mr Hayhurst?

Mr Hayhurst : I'm not directly aware of that. I've only seen what's in the public domain about personal communication and the comments that the government of France was contacted in advance of the announcement.

Senator WONG: What does that mean? No-one told you it was by text message until it was in the media; is that what that means?

Mr Hayhurst : I'm saying I was aware that the Prime Minister had made contact; I'm not aware of the details.

Senator WONG: You've read the media. It's asserted to be a text message. I'm asking when you became aware of that. Was that only—

Mr Hayhurst : I've seen the media reports.

Senator WONG: when you saw it in the media that you became aware that the communication was by text?

Mr Hayhurst : I don't know about the form of communication. I've seen the media report. I know that the government of France was—

Senator WONG: Was that the first time that a text message as the form of communication had been raised with you?

Mr Hayhurst : That's the first time any reference to a text message had been seen by me, yes.

Senator WONG: In the media?

Mr Hayhurst : In those references you're referring to in the media, that's right.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry, Minister, you answered this yesterday, but can you just remind me when you spoke to your counterpart?

Senator Payne: I spoke to the minister on 15 September.

Senator WONG: What time?

Senator Payne: I will check for you, Senator.

Senator WONG: Around the same time you spoke to Foreign Minister Marsudi, or earlier?

Senator Payne: I made a number of calls across several hours based on time zones; I'll check the time for you.

Senator WONG: And you spoke to him personally?

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator.

Senator WONG: And I think Defence Minister Dutton spoke to Minister Parly also on that day?

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator.

Senator WONG: How would you describe Minister Le Drian's response?

Senator Payne: As you know, it is not my habit to go into the discussions I have with counterparts, but it is a matter of public record, and one which I absolutely understand, that the minister conveyed the very deep disappointment of France at the decision.

Senator WONG: And that was the first time the minister was aware of the decision, or had the minister become aware through other forums or through other means?

Senator Payne: As again is on the record in I think PM&C estimates and elsewhere, there had been discussions over a period of time of our concerns about the capability that a conventional submarine, even a conventional submarine of the standard of the prospective Attack class, was not going to be able to meet our strategic needs in the future. The Prime Minister had been clear that decisions Australia would be making would be based on our national security interests. So those discussions had been had, but in relation to the specific decision itself that was the first time.

Senator WONG: The problem here is that the version you just gave is utterly inconsistent with the version the French have given.

Senator Payne: I am only able to speak for Australia, Senator.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that, but it's not just the deep disappointment; the clear public statements from the French government suggest that they feel deceived. That is a real problem in diplomatic relations, isn't it, because you're going to have different interests, you're going to have different perspectives and you're going to have conflict or disagreement. Statecraft is about navigating those, and I think the capability argument is compelling. But isn't the problem for the country that at both a personal level and a government-to-government level the French government feel deceived?

Senator Payne: Senator, we have been addressing the French government's concerns since the announcement. As you know, the ambassador has returned to Australia and will be leaving quarantine on the weekend—hopefully the last quarantine of many. He has had a number of conversations. I'm meeting him myself on Monday. That is part of the process of addressing these concerns.

Senator WONG: Yesterday Secretary Moriarty said that the French were surprised and disappointed, understandably. As much as I tried to put a bit of pressure on him, he's a very good officer, Secretary Moriarty, and he used the word 'surprised' and that certainly accords with their reaction. They were taken by surprise at the decision to cancel the largest procurement contract the nation has ever engaged in. Why was the decision made by government not to I suppose prepare the groundwork on this more with the French?

Senator Payne: I don't think that you should presume—let me recast that.

Senator WONG: Yes, because I don't think it's useful, when somebody feels deceived, to also accuse them of not being correct about what they say happened, because they have a very different view about what happened.

Senator Payne: I'm not aware that I did that, Senator. I'm not aware that I did that. I think that I have indicated and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have indicated in their discussions with you that there had been a number of conversations on these matters, but I fully accept the disappointment that has been expressed.

Senator WONG: But it is not just the disappointment; it is not just empathising. Their public statements—and I assume they correlate with their private indications—are that they were taken by surprise. There were people inside defence who were taken by surprise. Demonstrably the groundwork was not laid with the French government for the announcement sufficiently. Now, there are a few ways one can deal with that. You can deal with it as some in your government have, which is saying, 'Oh, they just didn't listen,' or versions thereof, or another way of dealing with it is to understand why—to take some responsibility for those communications clearly not preparing that ground with a valued partner.

Senator Payne: Over and above the submarine announcement there is also the proposition of the AUKUS partnership—which, to be very clear, the French government was not aware of.

Senator WONG: I'm talking about the submarine component.

Senator Payne: I think it is both—

Senator WONG: No, we're talking about—we don't have to go through this, do we? You agree they are a very important Indo-Pacific partner, correct?

Senator Payne: Absolutely, no question.

Senator WONG: So this is an important relationship for us, right?

Senator Payne: Absolutely, no question.

Senator WONG: Demonstrably they're disappointed, and some of the public language is quite strong.

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator.

Senato r WONG: I'm putting to you that, demonstrably, we didn't prepare the groundwork. I'm asking you to give us an explanation of why that is the case.

Senator Payne: There are a range of reactions that have come from the French government and from Europe more broadly, and although you did not want me to refer to that, I do think they go to the broad of both aspects of the announcement, not just the announcement in relation to submarines but also the announcement of the AUKUS partnership. That has been raised with the government, of course, through me and other ministers as well. Ultimately, we will work through this and these issues, because of exactly the points that you have just made: the importance of France in the Indo-Pacific, their contribution in the Indo-Pacific, the importance of the relationship. We will act, as you would expect us to, in our national interests and advancing our national interests, but we are committed to working through these issues—

Senator WONG: But our national interest is not just the capability; it is also strong partnerships with like-mindeds.

Senator Payne: Indeed it is. We are—

Senator WONG: It's in a whole range of your speeches et cetera. It's about actually doing—making sure your actions reflect your words. We haven't treated them like they're a valued partner, or that's their perception. This was always going to be sensitive to manage—

Senator Payne: That's correct.

Senator WONG: It's very sensitive. I recognise how hard it is. But Minister Le Drian said on 17 September:

It's really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed and I’m angry today, with a lot of bitterness … this is not done between allies, especially when there’s been two years of negotiations for this contract.

I think the thing that potentially is risky for the relationship is not just that we've done this; it's how they feel we've done it. They feel deceived. It's quite clear from their public statements.

Senator Payne: As I said, we will work through all of these issues and all of these steps. There had been conversations in advance of the announcements, but not, as you say, in the complete detail of both the AUKUS announcement, but certainly in raising our concerns, as you said and acknowledged, of the strategic environment and what capability we needed to work within that. We have shared a great deal of information with our partner, France, on that. We will continue to do so.

Senator WONG: Why did we make a decision not to give them more—to, as I said, prepare the groundwork and to either give them more notice or to do more work in advance so that the actual scrapping of the contract was not such a surprise? The distinction that is drawn is that we were in a lot of discussions about the implementation of the contract, and obviously there were negotiations and challenges and difficulties there. But it certainly doesn't appear that, at a political level, there was any awareness that Australia was about to walk away from the contract?

Senator Payne: Discussions about both those aspects of the submarine program—which you and I have discussed at great length through the estimates process over many months now, if not years—are also discussions about the restrictions of conventional submarine capability, notwithstanding that the Attack Class would have been, in our view, the best conventional submarine on the planet when it came into operation. The difference between the point that you make and where the government determined our position, was that, when you are talking about the most sensitive issues at the heart of our sovereign defence strategy—a decision to announce the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines and also the development of the AUKUS partnership—it was the judgement of the government that that sensitivity precluded broader information-sharing substantially in advance of the announcement, and that is the reason that we set out a plan to make contact with key counterparts in advance of the announcement on 15 September.

Senator WONG: They weren't just any counterpart though, were they?

Senator Payne: I'm not suggesting that at all.

Senator WONG: For this announcement, given that really the only two actual government decisions which have been made—apart from the partnership, but in relation to the submarines—are the scrapping of a contract and an 18-month consultation. They're the only actual two decisions made. They're not just a counterpart on this.

Senator Payne: As you say, they are a very valued partner, and I will reinforce that with the ambassador when I see him on Monday.

Senator WONG: I'll come to the ambassador shortly. At the inaugural France-Australia 2+2 Foreign and Defence ministerial meeting on 30 August, the French said, 'We talked about greater military cooperation with Australia, supporting their fullest posture in the region, and the importance of the Future Submarine program.' You didn't give any indication that we had concerns about continuing that program at that point?

Senator Payne: Those meetings are held in confidence, as you would imagine, but in the two-plus-two meeting the defence minister did raise the deteriorating strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific and Australia's review of its capability needs, including the question of the capability of conventional submarines in this region into the future. But, at that time, there had been no final decision taken on these matters.

Senator WO NG: Wow. So we go ahead with a two-plus-two on 30 August and you come back from that two-plus-two—you don't tell them, you don't even give them an indication, there's no final decision. You come back to a range of cabinet or NSC meetings and, 15 days later, you tell them you're junking the subs. It's understandable that they're pretty angry.

Senator Payne: I think the agenda and the outcomes of the two-plus-two go to your point earlier about the breadth of the relationship, most certainly—

Senator WONG: Can you not digress to that? You and I both know the problem here is what happened on the submarines announcement. Everyone agrees about the importance of the relationship. My concern, and frankly the concern of many, is that the way the government has handled this has damaged or risked that partnership for a significant period of time. I'm asking: do you understand—if you have a two-plus-two, you don't tell them that this is a possibility, and 15 days later you tell them you're junking the subs contract—why they might be a bit grumpy?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure if it's your suggestion that we should not have had those engagements. It is the government's view that the relationship is a very, very broad one, and the other activities which were reported out of the two-plus-two in the joint statement indicate that. But, as I have said, I do understand these concerns, and that is why our task is to move forward on these matters, and that is what we are focused on.

Senator WONG: Can you confirm that the day before the announcement, the Department of Defence sent a letter to Naval Group that refers to the continuation of work and reinvestment under the Core Work Scope 1 program and the execution of the extension contract proposal?

Senator Payne: I don't think you asked Defence that yesterday. I don't have those details with me.

Senator WONG: No, but it goes to the diplomatic relationship.

Senator Payne: I don't have those details with me.

Senator WONG: This has been reported publicly, and the French ambassador—

Senator Payne: Yes, but you could have asked the Department of Defence yesterday.

Senator WONG: Can I finish this? Of course you can play those lawyers games, but really?

Senator Payne: How is that a lawyers game? It's just that they were on yesterday and not today. It's not a game.

Senator WONG: This has been raised by the French government! You might want to diss it. You might want to make a joke about it. But it has been raised by the French government—

Senator Payne: No, I'm not—

Senator WONG: and maybe you should listen to what they are saying.

Senator Payne: but I don't have the details of the systems review correspondence with me.

Senator WONG: If you'd listen, I'm going to ask you something. This has been raised by the French government, the fact that they got a letter which was all about the continuation of a contract and, within 24 hours, the contract was then cancelled. Did anyone in DFAT or did anyone in government think about whether or not it was a good idea, a day before the announcement, to send them a letter saying, 'We're on track'?

Senator Payne: You might not wish to accept—

Senator WONG: You might not wish to listen to your French counterparts, but it is your job. It's from them.

Senator Payne: Senator, I'm going to operate on the basis that this is actually a monologue, because if you don't let me finish a sentence in response to a question then that's what it is.

Senator WONG: Sure. You go right ahead, but I'm putting to you what the French government have put to you. You can play games around where it should have been asked et cetera, but, as the foreign minister, I would have thought you might listen to what they're saying.

CHAIR: Enough of the editorialising. This is about questions and answers. Minister, can you please answer?

Senator Payne: Firstly, Senator, I am listening to, and have heard very acutely, what the French government is saying, in two languages. Secondly, I have also indicated, in relation to the correspondence, that you have referred to that it is not correspondence that was sent by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Payne: The detail of why it was sent, I understand it to be—and I will actually have to check with Defence, to ensure that I have this correct—an advice letter at the conclusion of a systems review process. That does not go to some of the things that have been reported in the Australian media. Frankly, unless you actually have the details of the processes of that aspect of the program, I don't think that you can say with confidence—

Senator WONG: No, but you see—

Senator Payne: I don't have any further information for you.

Senator WONG: No, but it's about perception, isn't it? It not actually about the detail of the letter.

Senator Payne: It may have been contractually required; I don't know.

Senator WONG: It's not a factual argument with me. This is our partner government. They're pretty grumpy. I haven't put this into the media. It's the foreign minister or the ambassador who has talked about this.

Senator Payne: Yes, I understand that.

Senator WONG: The ambassador has talked about this. Have you turned your mind to whether or not that was a good idea or how you might manage it?

Senator Payne: Yes, I have. And, as I said, I don't know whether it was contractually required. If it was contractually required, then one imagines that means it needed to be provided.

Senator WONG: But as yet you haven't had a chance to actually have a discussion with anyone from France, in either of the two languages, about this issue?

Senator Payne: I can only listen in two; I can't speak in two. I'm not nearly as good as Senator Kitching, for example.

Senator WONG: An article in Axios on 6 October 2021 said:

President Biden knows his administration messed up with French President Emmanuel Macron and is scrambling to make amends, … sources familiar with the internal deliberations told Axios.

… The White House's secret deal with Australia last month left the French feeling betrayed and blindsided … Secretary … Blinken visited Macron on Tuesday; national security adviser Jake Sullivan is on his way to Paris too.

Biden and his aides have acknowledged they were mistaken to leave it to the Australians to tell the French they were killing their submarine deal …

They also say:

The Australians told the Americans in June that they—

meaning Australia—

had all but told France that they were pulling the plug, both in writing and in direct conversations between Macron and Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison …

Did anyone from DFAT indicate to anyone in the Biden administration anything which could ground that assertion—that is, that we, Australia, had all but told France we were pulling the plug?

Senator Payne: I will ask the officials to answer, but I think you have, in part, spoken to it yourself by calling it an assertion.

Senator WONG: My question was—I will have to rewind. Is there anything that you can point to which would ground that assertion, that we had all but told France that we were pulling the plug?

Mr Hayhurst : I'm not aware of any DFAT officials saying anything like that to an American official.

Senator WONG: That was going to be my second question. Do you have any knowledge of anyone from DFAT communicating that message to the Biden administration?

Mr Hayhurst : No, I do not.

Senator WONG: Is that something that you're aware of at the political level, Minister—that someone in your government, at political level or office level, told the Americans, 'We all but told the French'?

Senator Payne: That piece of reporting is another piece of reporting, Senator. I don't have—

Senator WONG: Do you have any knowledge of anything that occurred?

Senator Payne: No, I don't.

Senator WONG: You don't. So no-one—

Senator Payne: There have been extensive engagements between Australian government officials and the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom in the development of both the AUKUS partnership and the announcements which were made subsequent to that.

Senator WONG: What is interesting is not just the assertion but then the subsequent actions. The Americans have done a lot more than we have to immediately move to seek to repair the relationship at very senior levels, but this is the assertion. I'll read the full quote:

The Australians told the Americans in June that they had all but told France that they were pulling the plug, both in writing and in direct conversations between Macron and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, according to two sources familiar with the assurances.

So two sources in the Biden administration are telling these two journalists that those are the assurances Australia has made. Is there any basis to the assertion that we did tell the Americans we had it in hand?

Senator Payne: I don't comment on multiple random media articles, otherwise people in our jobs would do nothing else. But, as I've said in my previous responses, Australia had been in discussions for an extended period of time across multiple avenues—with the French, as I said previously, particularly in relation to the issues with the capability of conventional submarines going forward in the strategic environment, and with the United States and the United Kingdom, on the development of the partnership and the prospect of the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines. But I'm not going to go into the details of those discussions between officials.

Senator WONG: I'm not asking you to do that. I'm just wondering: did we tell the Americans at any level that we had it in hand?

Senator Payne: You are asking me to, Senator, and I'm not going to do that.

Senator WONG: So we might have?

Senator Payne: I did not say that. You cannot verbal me to say I did.

Senator WONG: It goes to diplomatic mishandling on two key relationships.

Senator Payne: I disagree with you, Senator.

Senator WONG: Unless you can tell me it's not the case—there's credible reporting of two sources from the administration saying that Australia told the administration, 'We've got it in hand; we've all but told them,' and the French are saying, 'We were blindsided.' If that is the case, we've obviously mishandled this with the French in a way that makes them feel deceived and blindsided and we've mishandled it with the United States in a way that makes them feel that they trusted us to manage this, we didn't and then they had to go into overdrive, including the US President, the secretary of state and the national security adviser, seeking to get the relationship with France back on track. It's extraordinary!

Senator Payne: We have been extremely—

Senator WONG: That's a pretty good hit: the US and France in one go.

Senator Payne: We've been very clear with our partners that there was always going to be very significant disappointment and concern in France in relation to this decision.

Senator WONG: Did you or anyone, to your knowledge—

Senator Payne: We've been very clear in relation to the conversations that had been had between Australia and France, but can I also say that there has been extensive engagement across the administrations—between Australia and the United States and between Australia and the United Kingdom—discussing these issues at great length and with great regularity, right through this process. There has been a very close and joined-up process, or we would not have been able to come to a point where we achieved the delivery of the AUKUS partnership and the announcements of the nuclear powered submarines.

Senator WONG: Sure, but how you land something also matters, and I'm just saying: it has demonstrably undermined the relationship with France, and we also have the US suggesting, on their public statements and private statements, that they were relying on us to manage this and then they had to deal with it themselves, because we told them that we'd handled it when we hadn't.

Senator Pay ne: I disagree with you in terms of the actions that the United States may or may not have chosen to take. It is a trilateral partnership, and the United States has its own bilateral relationship with France, which also has the perspectives of AUKUS attached to it.

Senator WONG: Okay. Is there anything of which you're aware in any communication with the United States administration that goes to an assurance that we had it in hand with the French and that we'd all but told them?

Senator Payne: The way it is cast in a media article does not necessarily reflect the way engagements have been had.

Senator WONG: Sure, I accept that. I'm asking you if there's anything that you're aware of, in communications from government to the US administration, in which we suggested that we had it in hand?

Senator Payne: I think the holding of the AUSMIN the day after the announcement shows that the relationship is—

Senator WONG: This is not my question.

Senator Payne: as deep and committed as ever. As I have said, I'm not going to go to the details.

Senator WONG: I think it is notable that you are not denying that we did make those assurances to the United States, in which case they were clearly assurances which were not correct.

Senator Payne: I will not agree with your assertion—

Senator WONG: Then deny it.

Senator Payne: And because I won't go to the details of bilateral conversations, you then tell me that's not a denial.

Senator WONG: Even if we say you're not going to tell me what you and the US Secretary of State spoke about—okay, but are you aware of anyone in government telling the Americans we had it in hand?

Senator Payne: I am not privy to every single conversation across—

Sena tor WONG: 'Are you aware,' was the preface.

Senator Payne: We'll, I'm saying I'm not privy to every single conversation—

Senator WONG: No. Are you aware?

Senator Payne: Can I finish, please?

Senator WONG: Yes, but I'm not asking you about conversations you're not aware of.

Senator Payne: I have nothing further to add.

Senator WONG: Are you aware of any conversations?

Senator Payne: I have nothing further to add, Senator.

Senator WONG: So our most important ally has relied on us to deal with this and you won't tell people whether or not we actually told them, 'We've got it in hand'?

Senator Payne: Your continued misrepresentations of this are not going to make—

Senator WONG: Are you going to answer a question, or are you just going to tell me what I'm doing wrong?

Senator Payne: Your continued misrepresentations of this are not going to make me change the approach I have taken consistently, in this role, to bilateral conversations. What I am saying to you is that there have been constant—

Senator WONG: Yes—'constant' and 'absolute'. They were the two words I was waiting for.

Senator Payne: I'm sorry I disappointed you by not saying 'absolute'.

Senator WONG: 'Absolutely committed' is what you usually say.

Senator Payne: There have been constant and regular—in fact, I will elevate 'constant' to 'continuous' for you, Senator—

Senator WONG: That's not correct.

Senator Payne: engagements between the US administration and the Australian government officials through the development of both AUKUS and the announcement of the acquisition of nuclear powered submarines, which are those conversations that went to every aspect of this process. I cannot account for every single conversation, but in my case I was not involved in any of the conversations that you have referred to by referencing that article.

Senator WONG: Was it your understanding that the understanding between the US and Australia, and the UK, was that Australia would handle the engagement with France for the purposes of communicating the decision to move to propulsion and the cancelling of the Attack class?

Senator Payne: Australia would handle our bilateral interests, the United States would handle their bilateral interests, and the UK would handle theirs. Of course, for Australia, that goes to dealing with the difficult decision that has of course so disappointed France in relation to the submarines.

 

Senator WONG: Right. Can I re-ask the question: was it agreed or understood that Australia would take responsibility for advising France of the cancellation of the submarine contract and the decision to move to nuclear propulsion as part of the AUKUS agreement?

Senator Payne: Senator, the responsibility for engaging with France in relation to our decision on the submarine partnership is ours, yes.

Senator WONG: If the US had engaged to say, 'We're doing AUKUS, and the first cab off the rank in terms of capability that it's dealing with is nuclear propulsion,' it would have told the French that we were cancelling the submarine contract, so presumably the US could not have engaged until we had communicated the ending of the Attack class contract, correct?

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator. That's basically correct.

Senator WONG: So it is correct to say that the US were relying on us to manage that communication.

Senator Payne: In relation to the submarine contract, yes, Senator.

Senator WONG: I ask again: Did we express to the Biden administration that we had it in hand? Did we express to them that we had laid the groundwork?

Senator Payne: Senator, as I've said, I'm not going to go into the details of those conversations.

Senator WONG: Okay. The French ambassador was recalled to Paris as a result of the decision to scrap the submarine contract. When were you advised of that decision, Mr Hayhurst?

Mr Hayhurst : I think it was announced publicly, which was when I found out about it, on 17 September.

Senator WONG: Were you advised ahead of the public announcement, Minister?

Ms Campbell : Senator, I was advised on the day of the announcement by my counterpart, the secretary general, in France.

Senator WONG: Before the public announcement?

Ms Campbell : Yes, just before the public announcement.

Senator WONG: Was there any ministerial or political-level contact before the public announcement?

Ms Campbell : I advised the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry?

Ms Campbell : I advised the—

Senator WONG: Ministerial-level contact—was there any contact at a political or a ministerial level giving notice or indicating, 'We're going to be recalling our ambassador'?

Senator Payne: No, Senator.

Senator W ONG: Right. Okay.

Senator Payne: Because it was conveyed to the secretary.

Senator WONG: I want to put something to you, Minister, partly because I hope you'll just say it was a bad idea for someone to say that—

CHAIR: So you're suggesting the answer before the question.

Senator WONG: I am, actually, because I think it's unhelpful. Mr Galloway wrote an article on 24 October—I didn't write the title—entitled 'Australian foreign policy is getting clumsy and arrogant'. Leave that aside, he reports a sentence that he describes as having been heard 'a few times over the past 48 hours as coalition MPs rubbish any suggestion that Australia has seriously harmed itself in infuriating France over dumping the $90 billion submarine deal.' The sentence he reports as a direct quote is:

"They're just having a sook."

I'm assuming that, whatever our differences, that is not something you would say, Minister.

Senator Payne: That's absolutely correct, Senator.

Senator WONG: Are of you aware of your colleagues saying that?

Senator Payne: No, Senator.

Senator WONG: Mr Galloway doesn't make stuff up, and he's got a direct quote here. Would you agree that coalition MPs putting those sorts of quotes onto the public record is deeply unhelpful at a time when there is a lot of sensitivity in the relationship with France?

Senator Payne: I don't think glib statements of that nature about bilateral relationships, no matter what they are, are helpful, and in this instance it is not helpful, Senator.

Senator WONG: It's not just 'glib', though, is it? If a nation—

Senator Payne: If it's true, Senator.

Senator WONG: I'm not going to call him a liar. He's saying that this is what's been said to him by your colleagues—and more than one: 'They're just having a sook.'

Senator Payne: I saw the piece myself.

Senator WONG: Oh, you did. Did you raise it with any colleagues or did you raise it in the party room or any other context, saying, 'Look, this is really unhelpful'?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure that I specifically raised it, but I have certainly been very clear that this relationship is a very important relationship—

Senator WONG: Why did you not address—

Senator Payne: to Australia and in the Indo-Pacific. I don't recall specific conversations. I may have. I don't recall.

Senator WONG: I just wonder why it's not something you might say in the party room and brief out, so there's clear leadership—like, 'This is not okay and it's not the position of the government. And this is actually deleterious, this is damaging to—'

Senator Payne: To any question I have been asked I have spoken only of the importance of the Australia-France relationship.

Senator WONG: Your job is to also lead the people in your government and to try and make sure that they don't say stupid stuff.

Senator Payne: I've been very clear with, as you put it, the 'people in my government' and more broadly.

Senator WONG: How?

Senator Payne: In all of my conversations across our backbench committees and across a range of colleagues.

Senator WONG: Has anyone ever said to you: 'They're just having a sook'?

Senator Payne: No, not that I recall.

Senator WONG: Isn't the problem with it—well, there are a number of problems with it—it's not just that it's glib. It is, again, denying their perception about what has occurred. You have a different perception to—

CHAIR: 'Perception' being the French?

Senator WONG: The French, yes. So the French government's clear perception from what they've said is, as I said, that they're very disappointed or upset, angry, whatever, but also that they feel they've been deceived. In order to move on from this we have to hear that, and dismissing it as 'them having a sook' or 'they should have known' et cetera just seems to me that it will compound the damage to the relationship, will it not?

Senator Payne: Well, it's unnamed and it's unsourced.

Senator WONG: Would you agree with that?

Senator Payne: It's not something I think is helpful at all. I've been very clear about that.

Senator WONG: Do you regret any aspect of how you have handled the relationship with France and the context of the AUKUS partnership and the cancellation of the contract?

Senator Payne: I certainly regret the deep disappointment that France feels and I have been absolutely explicit in indicating that. I would say for the record that I have worked extremely closely over six years with Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is the French foreign minister and was previously the French defence minister. These are matters on which we have worked very closely. I know that not only France but Minister Le Drian feels the disappointment acutely, and I absolutely understand the role for this government—for me, for the Prime Minister, the defence minister and others—to ensure that we can continue to work closely with France to acknowledge and appreciate their deep importance in the Indo-Pacific, and I am very committed to doing that and to moving forward.

Senator WONG: Ms Bishop has made some public comments. She says:

Offending France in the way that it appears we have done will need a great deal of effort to rebuild the trust that did exist with one of our oldest friends.

…   …   …

… for Australia to renege on the contract in the way that we did … I think, is a big mistake. And needs a lot of time and energy and effort to go into diplomatic relations.

Do you think she's right?

Senator Payne: I've seen those comments, and I think I've responded in terms of the government's approach.

Senator WONG: Mr Hayhurst, we've done the pre-announcement list—Indonesia, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, India, France, Canada, Japan—can you give me the post-announcement list? Did you have an order of priority or a sequence there?

Mr Hayhurst : I've got it here somewhere. I can come back to you in a minute or two when I've located the list.

Senator WONG: While you're doing that, I notice Mr Shanahan—who seems to get a lot of information about what the government is doing—wrote today:

… Mr Morrison said he did not think he would meet Mr Macron in either Rome or Glasgow because Australia needed to give him "some space".

…   …   …

Sometimes it's just best to give our friends some space.

Do I understand from that that we didn't request a meeting, or we requested a meeting and we were not given one?

Senator Payne : That is ultimately a matter for PM&C in terms of—

Senator WONG: You're the foreign minister.

Senator Payne: the meetings that make up the Prime Minister's program. All of the relevant ministers, whether it's the Prime Minister, me or the defence minister, have indicated that we would be very pleased and are available to speak to our French counterparts or meet with our French counterparts when possible.

Senator WONG: You're the foreign minister and you've expressed that you do recognise an imperative to try to repair the relationship. I'm just asking in the context of that: are you aware personally of whether or not we sought a meeting with President Macron or we made a decision not to seek a meeting at the G20.

Senator Payne: I'm not sure what that status is. I'll ask PM&C in terms of where that is up to.

Senator WONG: PMO? It's a political-level decision. Did we make a decision to—

Senator Payne: The programs are derived through PM&C with the Prime Minister's office, that is correct. I will check that.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Have you found your brief, Mr Hayhurst?

Mr Hayhurst : I have. After the announcement I should say that every Australian mission overseas was tasked to go in and brief governments in detail. We had briefings for the diplomatic corps here. There was a separate briefing for Pacific missions. There was one for ASEAN missions. There was a broader one for the wider diplomatic corps here in Canberra. I spoke myself to a number of ambassadors. I was acting secretary at the time the posts went in. They went in internationally. The minister also made further calls as did the Prime Minister and the defence minister. The foreign minister, for example, spoke to her New Zealand, Brunei and Malaysian counterparts on the day of the announcement, Australian time. Some of those calls continued in the days thereafter.

Senator WONG: I'm actually just wanting a list of the two tranches: partners who got a call ahead of time and then post. Can you give me an order or confirm: when did we speak to Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, other ASEAN nations and Pacific island leaders?

Mr Hayhurst : It's quite a detailed and extensive list. I can do that. Are you asking at officials level or ministerial level?

Senator WO NG: Ministerial level. You can do both. We can do it by country. We have the ASEAN nations, so it was only Indonesia from ASEAN I think that were advised ahead, if you called ahead—yes?

Mr Hayhurst : That's right.

Senator WONG: Perhaps on notice you tell me how we engaged with the rest of ASEAN countries—which level and when—Pacific and Pacific island leaders. You've already told me about India, Japan and New Zealand, who are the others on my list.

Senator Payne: I can give you some detail now, if you wish.

Senator WONG: I'm happy to move on.

Mr Hayhurst : Can I clarify: that's just ministerial?

Senator WONG: Ministerial and official. I'm trying to circumscribe it by nation rather than by—

Mr Hayhurst : I understand. We can do that on notice.

Senator WONG: Unless I get a message soon from somebody, I've finished this section. I've got plenty of other questions, but did you want to move on?

CHAIR: I was intending to let senators go until 10.30. I'm always happy to assist with questions.

Senator AYRES: I want to ask some questions about our United Kingdom mission premises.

Senator Payne: Australia House?

Senator AYRES: No, I mean Stoke Lodge.

Senator Payne: The residence.

Ms Campbell : We'll see whether we have someone here.

Senator AYRES: Great. Thank you.

Ms Campbell : We have officers from both our service delivery group and the desk office for Europe at the table.

Senator AYRES: I understand that there have been some substantial works there that come up to around half a million Australian dollars—is that right?

Ms Sidhu : I think that is one question of detail that I might invite the executive director of our overseas property office, who oversees those works, to answer.

Ms Pitson : Your question was in relation to Stoke Lodge?

Senator AYRES: Yes

Ms Pitson : Yes, we have done some work there lately, but, to get the dollar value, I'll take that on notice and come back to you shortly, if I may.

Senator AYRES: There's a question on notice from me that the department responds to and says $444,136. The bulk of that though is to a terrace, isn't it?

Ms Pitson : Yes. The works also included window replacement and improved ventilation.

Senator AYRES: It looks like some of that work is because there's noncompliance of the terrace perimeter. Some local council issue—is that right?

Ms Pitson : Yes, Senator.

Senator AYRES: So that was the initial beginning of this development. But the department's raising the height of the paving with something called mono install pavers on adjustable feet. This is a Grand Design style renovation of this terrace now. It's quite substantial?

Ms Pitson : No, I don't believe so.

Senator AYRES: A quarter of a million dollars for this aspect of it The thing that caught my eye about this is that there's a Flushglaze walk on the roof. What's that all about?

Ms Pitson : Whereabouts are you referring to?

Senator AYRES: In the designs which we were provided there's a walkway here that is composed of glass that allows Mr Brandis to walk across the terrace and observe the kitchen staff below—is that something you were aware of?

Ms Pitson : You've got more detail than I have. I can look into it.

Senator AYRES: I sense that possibly I do have more detail than you have!

Senator Payne: It's a heritage building. We'll get you what information you need in terms of the work.

Senator AYRES: It seemed like an odd thing. It's sort of Upstairs, Downstairs-plus, isn't it, to be able to observe the staff downstairs while you are upstairs?

Senator Payne: I think your interpretation of this, which I'm sure is for your own purposes, and what actually has been done is something I would rather respond to factually on notice if you have particular questions, because I don't have with me, unless you want to share it with us all. the information that you need.

Senator WONG: It's no secret. I think we got them from the council, so presumably—

Senator Payne: I'm sure. As I understand it, the refurbishment works include repair and replacement works to the rooftop, the parapet, the balustrade, the paving, the lighting, the chimney and a waterproofing membrane.

Senator WONG: Is that what the Flushglaze is?

Senator Payne: No idea, Senator.

Senator WONG: I've never heard of this before.

Senator Payne: Nobody would ever let me go near a construction project, so I don't intend to pretend I know. Repair and redecoration of internal and external cracked walls. It includes window replacement, improved ventilation works, and I would note it is a heritage property.

Senator AYRES: She knows more than you do about this project. Is the project finished, Minister, if you're on top of the details?

Senator Payne: As I said—

Senator AYRES: Did you go and walk on the deck when you were in London?

Senator Payne: Interestingly, I have been to Stoke Lodge once in my parliamentary career. It was to host a dinner with the then secretary for trade and gender equality, Secretary Truss, who is now the foreign secretary, in June of this year when I attended the G7-plus. It is my only visit to the residence. I have been in the library and the dining room. I can't tell you any more.

Senator AYRES: I want to come to functions in this particular facility.

Senator Payne: I can tell you one thing else: the works are being undertaken to address noncompliance of the terrace perimeter balustrade to current local health and safety height regulations—I presume the council would also be interested in that—and repair building elements which have declined over a long period of time. The works at the staff quarters are to replace aged and damaged windows and address inadequate ventilation that is causing condensation and mould issues. The RFQ was issued to three local tenderers, and all three tenderers replied to both RFQs.

CHAIR: Those hanging onto the edge of their seats with anticipation of more information will have to wait until 11.30 because we are now going to break for morning tea. After, Senator Rice will have a bracket of 20 minutes; Senator Patrick will have 15; and Senator McGrath will have 10 . If all that works out, at 11.30 we'll return to this great topic.

Senator Payne: I don't know whether it's finished, Senator Ayres, but we'll check.

Senator AYRES: I have about four minutes more of questions on this.

CHAIR: That's going to knock out others who also have other appearances, as I understand it.

Senator WONG: But then he's off the list.

CHAIR: For good?

Senator WONG: Just on this topic.

Senator AYRES: It would give me more time to reorganise.

Proceedings suspended from 10:32 to 10:47

CHAIR: The committee has resumed, and Senator Rice has the call.

Senator RICE: I'm going to start with Julian Assange, given the US appeal against his extradition to the US began last night. Minister, you would be aware of the reporting that the CIA considered kidnapping or assassinating Julian Assange. When did you or your department first become aware of these claims?

Senator Payne: First of all, I would say that you have indicated on the record—and I would have done the same—that there is an appeal underway, so I will not be making any comment in relation to the matters before the court. Secondly, I would say, in relation to the question that you have just asked about the media story, that I found out in the media, when you found out, I presume.

Senator RICE: In the media?

Senator Payne: In the media.

Senator RICE: What steps did you take when you found out about the media story?

Senator Payne: I saw the story and I referred my staff to it, or they referred it to me—I can't remember in which order. I would have to take on notice what has happened since then, which I will do.

Senator RICE: Have you raised it with your counterparts?

Senator Payne: Not that story, no. But I did raise Mr Assange again with the Secretary of State in our last meeting, and I raised Mr Assange, I think, since the last estimates, with the then UK foreign secretary, Secretary Raab.

Senator RICE: In terms of the Secretary of State, when you last raised it with them, was that after this CIA story?

Senator Payne: I don't recall in terms of the dates, but I can check that.

Senator RICE: If you could give, on notice, the dates of both of those things, that would be good. Did a representative of your department, on 26 September, dismiss concerns raised by a member of the Assange family about this by saying, 'Just because it's written in a newspaper doesn't mean it's true,' and, 'The CIA has been accused of a lot of things, including faking the moon landing'?

Senator Payne: I don't know, Senator. I have seen a range of commentaries made in relation to that story, and that comment would in fact be in keeping with some of the public commentary about that story. But I do not know if a member of our department made that comment. I can seek advice on that.

Senator RICE: If you could seek advice and get back to me, that would be good. Overnight, we heard during the opening day of the US appeal that Mr Assange could apply to serve a sentence in Australia, and the US would agree to that transfer. Have you agreed to that or at least discussed it with your US counterpart?

Senator Payne: I am not going to go into the details of those discussions. I'm not going to make any comment on the matters that are before the courts.

Senator RI CE: It has been widely reported that a key US witness admitted fabricating key accusations relied on in the indictment against Mr Assange. What have you or your department done about his prosecution in response to that?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to make any comment on any matters that are before the courts.

Senator RICE: You say you've raised Australia's expectations about Julian Assange's treatment with former British foreign secretary Dominic Raab, and you've raised Mr Assange's case with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary Blinken, yet Mr Assange remains in a super max prison and the appeal is going ahead. Did you at any time ask all or any of them to drop the case against Julian Assange?

Senator Payne: As I understand it, Mr Assange is in the Belmarsh prison hospital, Belmarsh prison. I don't know what the status of the prison is in those terms. As you know, as I have discussed with you previously, the government, through the high commission in London, has sought to provide Mr Assange with consular assistance—

Senator RICE: That's not my question, Minister.

Senator Payne: and/or assistance with medical support 29 times to date.

Senator RICE: That's not my question.

Senator Payne: I am endeavouring to say to you, Senator, that it is very difficult to raise matters of the sort that you describe—

Senator RICE: This isn't consular assistance—

Senator Payne: with no ability to communicate with Mr Assange.

Senator RICE: This is not consular assistance; this is asking you whether you asked any of them to drop the case against him.

Senator Payne: Mr Assange is undergoing extradition proceedings between two countries. The UK and the US legal processes are what pertain here. It's not a criminal trial at this point, in terms of the determination of guilt or innocence. They are the facts. I will ask Mr Newnham if he wishes to add anything, but I am not going to make any further comment.

Mr Newnham : No.

Senator RICE: I will move on because I have limited time. Minister, you told Senate estimates in June this year that you had read only parts of the 4 January judgement of UK Judge Vanessa Baraitser. Have you now read the entire judgement?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure if I've read the entire judgement, but I'm familiar with it.

Senator RICE: Have you read more of it since?

Senator Payne: Yes, I have, but I'm not sure if it was the entire judgement. I am familiar with it, though.

Senator RICE: When the Australian government had Mr Assange's authority to provide consular assistance, talking points prepared by your department and released under FOI confirmed that on 30 May 2019 the Australian High Commission contacted Belmarsh prison authorities to inquire about Mr Assange's health after media reports about him being moved to the Belmarsh health ward. Was the information provided by the prison brought to your attention?

Senator Payne: Not that I'm aware of, and I would not necessarily expect that to be the case for every detained Australian, given the number of Australians that are detained in a range of circumstances around the world. From time to time they are, it is correct to say, but I don't recall that specifically.

Senator RICE: Okay. I'm told that the Belmarsh health authorities at that stage were refusing to respond to calls and letters from Australian officials about Mr Assange's health at that time. Given the grave concerns for Mr Assange's health, you weren't told, but can you tell me why the Australian High Commission didn't further intervene at that stage when you had the authority for consular assistance?

Senator Payne: On 13 June 2019, the UK Secretary of State for Justice advised our high commission that consent had been withdrawn—

Senator RICE: This was on 6 June, and it may have had something to do with the fact that there wasn't effective consular assistance being provided.

Senator Payne: I absolutely disagree with your point, Senator, because our consular officers do make every effort to engage where it is possible to do so within the confines of the legal systems in the countries in which they are operating and working. Since we were advised that consent for information to be passed to the high commission had been withdrawn—and I know you do not wish me to go through these dates, Senator—

Senator RICE: No, because I have very limited time, please, Minister. I'm talking about the period when we had consular authority.

Senator Payne: I know you are, Senator Rice.

Senator RICE: When there was no response coming from Belmarsh Prison, despite post having written to them on three separate occasions, it wasn't brought to your attention.

Senator Payne: There are sensitivities here. I don't usually discuss the private health status of Australian citizens, including detained Australian citizens, on the public record in estimates. Most people would think that is inappropriate.

Senator RICE: I'm not asking for that.

Senator Payne: Yes, you are.

Senator RICE: I'm just asking if it was brought to your attention and why the high commissioner didn't take further action.

Senator Payne: You are to a degree, because I think the high commission has endeavoured strenuously to take action in relation to this. There are a number of matters which have been raised with Mr Assange's lawyers. There are a number of matters that have been raised from letters from 25 June 2019 till 14 October 2021 seeking to provide that support.

Senator RICE: Minister, that's not the period that I'm talking about. I have limited time, so I really don't want you to go into answering questions that I haven't asked. I'll move on. Minister, you told estimates in June last year that you were quite capable of making the assessment about the strategic implications for the US-Australia alliance if diplomatic assistance is provided to Mr Assange. Minister, what was and is your assessment of that?

Senator Payne: I'm sorry, I don't understand what your question is.

Senator RICE: You said last year that you are quite capable of making the assessment about the strategic implications for the US-Australia alliance if diplomatic assistance is provided to Mr Assange. You said that in estimates in June last year. What was and is your assessment of the strategic implications for the Australia-US alliance if—

Senator Payne: I don't know what you mean by 'diplomatic assistance'.

Senator RICE: Actually advocating for the charges to be dropped against him.

Senator Payne: I see. I'm not going to go into the details of my engagements with the United States. I have told you that they have occurred, but I do not usually, as I say to other members of this committee, discuss the details of those exchanges.

Senator RICE: Minister, Australia's former foreign minister Bob Carr said in May 2019 in relation to Mr Assange that Marise Payne 'needs to protect herself from the charge that she's failed in her duty to protect the life of an Australian citizen' and 'not to do so would leave the minister exposed to withering criticism that they did not take all appropriate action that might have made a difference'. Minister, have you taken all appropriate action that might have made a difference in the case of Julian Assange?

Senator Payne: Across the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in consular terms and in my engagements with my counterparts both in the United Kingdom and the United States I have consistently sought to assure myself of Mr Assange's position in terms of the legal processes to which he is subject. I have consistently encouraged my consular staff to engage on his case and to seek to provide him with consular assistance and/or assistance with medical support. That has been met with rejection or no answer on 29 occasions so far.

Senator RICE: So you think that's all the appropriate assistance that you should have provided?

Senator Payne: I have provided the assistance that I am able to.

Senator RICE: I want to move on to the proposed amendments to the Autonomous Sanctions Act. When is the government going to introduce proposed amendments to allow for the imposition of targeted sanctions against the perpetrators of egregious human rights violations?

Mr Newnham : I'm sorry, would you be able to repeat your question?

Senator RICE: Yes. The government response to the committee report on Magnitsky said that you were proposing to amend the Autonomous Sanctions Act 2011.

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator RICE: So when is it proposed that that amending legislation will be introduced?

Mr Newnham : The answer to that is: as soon as possible. We're working, obviously, with the Attorney-General's Department and the drafters of that legislation—

Senator RICE: What does 'as soon as possible' mean?

Mr Newnham : Of course, there's a schedule for legislation to be introduced for the remainder of this year. I can assure you that we've got a—

Senator RICE: So are we talking about this year?

Mr Newnham : That is absolutely our expectation.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator RICE: Thank you. I want to quickly move on to Afghanistan. Minister, I presume the Australian government is aware of flights that are currently being organised out of Afghanistan which other governments, such as the US, France, Canada and Germany, are utilising to evacuate people. Is Australia currently utilising those flights out?

Senator Payne: Could you be more specific about what flights you're referring to?

Senator RICE: There are chartered flights leaving both Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif. I'm told, by people on the ground in Mazar-i-Sharif, that there are flights going out every day.

Senator Payne: We have had the opportunity for some citizens to leave from Kabul on a flight to Qatar recently, and we are identifying all opportunities, but I'll ask officials to add to that if they have any further information.

Mr Newnham : I note that Ms Logan's also at the table. On 11 October, we managed to secure 34 seats on a flight from Kabul organised by the Qatar government. It's absolutely our focus to continue to secure further seats on further flights, and we're very actively engaged in that. It is the case that, from time to time, flights are also taken from other parts of Afghanistan; I've seen those media reports as well. I would just caution, of course, that our travel advice is very clear regarding our caution and concern about the risks associated with those who travel overland, whether it be to border regions or to regional airports. Of course, if there are flight opportunities elsewhere and individuals present at that location and are seeking government assistance, we will look at every chance we can to assist. But I would note that we also need to be mindful of those that are conducting those flights, the sorts of permissions that are needed and the risks associated with some charters that may occur in some parts of Afghanistan.

Senator RICE: It's good to hear that there were 34 people who you managed to get out, but can you very quickly tell me what you are doing to assist people currently trapped in Afghanistan, and, in particular, not just Australian nationals but permanent residents and visa holders? What are we doing to assist individuals who have made it to other countries, such as Pakistan?

Mr Newnham : Of course. I'll look to Ms Logan to assist, but what I can say upfront is that, as of 22 October, there are 96 Australians and 106 permanent residents remaining, according to our consular and crisis database.

Senator RICE: How about visa holders?

Mr Newnham : The number of visa holders is a figure that we rely on Department of Home Affairs to clarify, and that figure is outstanding. We don't have clarity around that figure, exactly. I know they answered a series of questions about this yesterday, but what I wanted to answer was the part of your question that goes to what we are doing to assist all of those folks remaining in Afghanistan. It is a combination of things. It is phone calls, SMS messages and emails to the individuals. We're working through their particular circumstances on an almost line-by-line basis. We continue to try and provide replacements for, in many cases, lost or damaged travel documentation, which is crucial to further steps they may be able to take in departing the country. There is a great deal of effort to refer individuals to counselling services. We also, where requested, will liaise with family members who may be here in Australia, to update them on the state of play.

It is the case, as I mentioned earlier, that some individuals present over the border, particularly in Pakistan. Our high commission has been incredibly active in assisting with flights and providing assistance to Australians, permanent residents and visa holders who present in locations like that. Whilst it's not recommended and is highly risky, we note, too, efforts by our high commission in Islamabad to assist those who present at the border and need authorisation to cross the border.

Senator RICE: Do we have an update on how many visa holders Australia is going to accept? We've been told that 3,000 was a floor and not a ceiling or a cap. You don't know actually know how many of those visa holders there are, or at least Home Affairs need to be able to tell us that, by the sound of it.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator RICE: But I'm told it's a government decision as to how many of those visa holders we will accept.

Senator Payne: It is a matter for Home Affairs, and I presume those questions were asked in Home Affairs this week.

Senator RICE: Does Australia have any diplomatic engagement or informal contact with the Taliban?

Mr Newnham : The answer is 'in good company'. Here, of course, there are a number of equities that we are seeking to prosecute, particularly in the examples you've given, on behalf of those remaining in Afghanistan. Our Special Representative on Afghanistan is Mr Daniel Sloper. Where there are engagements to pursue our interests with the Afghan authorities, and with a number of other nations represented, yes, the answer to that is that he would join those engagements where appropriate.

Senator RICE: I won't go into further details of that, because I'm going to run out of time. What's the status of the Afghan embassy here in Australia? Can I just have one more after that? It's not quite the last.

CHAIR: Alright, one more after this.

Mr Newnham : I would defer to Mr Cowan on that question.

Mr Cowan : The Afghan embassy here continues to operate. It continues to provide consular services to Afghan nationals in Australia.

Senator RICE: Okay. My last question is on a completely different topic: the methane pledge which, as we have heard overnight, Australia has refused to sign up to. Did the department investigate joining 35 other major countries in signing up to the methane pledge, or did it just dismiss the prospect?

Ms Campbell : I think that might be a question probably best directed to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

Senator RICE: Even though it's an international issue? It's the US and the EU that have created this pledge. Has a formal request been made by either of them for us to sign up to it?

CHAIR: Take that on notice, please, because time has gone past. I move to Senator Patrick.

Senator WONG: Can I just note that they have lead responsibility for policy, although I note that only one Energy official is actually going to the COP, but you have responsibility, in this portfolio, for the international components. I think questions about the decision to not sign up to an international arrangement are legitimate in this portfolio.

CHAIR: Alright. Senator Patrick has the call.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much. I have some questions that go to our relationship with China. I'll start with you, Minister. When did you last have direct contact with your Chinese counterpart? Was it face to face or by telephone? By what means was it?

Senator Payne: As I've indicated on the record previously, we have not spoken for some time, notwithstanding my absolute willingness to speak with Foreign Minister Wang Yi at any time. We spoke at the beginning of some of the more significant COVID challenges, and we have exchanged a number of letters since that time.

Senator PATRICK: So have you had any exchanges of letters this year?

Senator Payne: I believe so, but I can check that.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much. I don't know whether it's appropriate to ask if the trade minister has had contact with his counterparts or whether I should do that later.

Senator Payne: Probably later this evening—or Ms Lawson can respond to that.

Ms Lawson : I just need to check on the time frames for that. We'll come back to you.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. That's good. Foreign Minister, what about direct contact with the Chinese ambassador here in Australia?

Senator Payne: He is about to depart, if he hasn't already departed. I spoke to the Chinese ambassador some time ago now. My office spoke with him last week, prior to his imminent departure. I know Deputy Secretary Hayhurst has also spoken to him. I will check on when I last saw him.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much. When have you had direct contact—that is, face to face?

Senator Payne: That's what I'm checking for you.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. I thought it could have included telephone calls.

Ms Lawson : If I may, I just want to point out that Minister Tehan wrote to his Chinese counterpart in January this year.

Senator PATRICK: My question relates to direct contact so either by telephone or face to face. This year have we had any contacts between any of our ministers and their Chinese counterparts?

Ms Lawson : There's been no direct contact by phone or in person between Australian and Chinese ministers this year.

Senator Payne: A range of multilateral meetings were attended of course. The foreign minister, Wang Yi, and I both participated in the East Asia Summit. Premier Li Keqiang was participating in the East Asia Summit with Prime Minister Morrison last night. I know that Minister Colbeck engaged in summer Olympics in Tokyo related matters with his counterpart—G20 foreign ministers as well. So a number of things.

Senator PATRICK: So multilateral is, I guess, normal. One would consider, noting the importance of the relationship, that there is absence of direct contact, not unwilling, from our side?

Senator Payne: No, not at all. We believe that dialogue is very important.

Senator PATRICK: Sure. I understand. In relation to Taiwan, you'd be aware that President Biden made some remarks about commitments to Taiwan where he indicated, pretty unambiguously, that the United States would come to Taiwan's defence if China attacked. That's an unambiguous statement that departs from a normally ambiguous statement that they tend to make about Taiwan. Is DFAT's assessment similar to mine in that this is a departure from that?

Mr Ha yhurst : Subsequent to that, White House officials have clarified in detail that there is no change to US policy. So that is our judgement too, that there is no change.

Senator PATRICK: So that language doesn't go past the language in the US Taiwan Relations Act at all?

Mr Hayhurst : Not according to the United States. It not only talks about that act, but some of the communiques, the six assurances and other matters. The US has clarified that there is no change to its policy to Taiwan.

Sena tor PATRICK: They've done that publicly. Has DFAT sought any formal clarification?

Mr Hayhurst : We haven't sought formal clarification, having received public clarification very shortly after the President made his remarks.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. In October 2020 I asked in this forum about the increasing tension between Taiwan and China. Ms Adamson expressed some very clear concerns—I might say Her Excellency Ms Adamson—

Senator Payne: As a South Australian, you must say that!

Senator PATRICK: Yes, I must say that—thank you. She expressed some very clear concerns about the relationship between China and Taiwan. Since that time there has been increased rhetoric in China and increased incursions with other activities, such as an increase in its air force and mainland forces at mainland bases near Taiwan. How seriously has the situation deteriorated over the last year? What's DFAT's current view?

Mr Hayhurst : The situation has deteriorated. It is very serious. We are concerned about the increase in air incursions into the Air Defence Identification Zone. We consider that the risk of some sort of miscalculation is higher than it was before. There's more activity and there's more pressure so we're concerned.

Senator PATRICK: You would characterise the risk of an incident, or moving towards conflict, across the Taiwan straits as reasonable or likely?

Mr Hayhurst : No, I'm not going to speculate on conflict. But I do think with greater air incursions, and more pressure and more activity on the water, there is a higher chance of miscalculation. Tension is clearly higher than it was before. I think conflict is still something that we judge as not likely in the immediate term.

Senator PATRICK: Have we made formal—

CHAIR: Without eating into your time, Senator Molan would like to ask one question right on topic. Senator Wong as well? Alright.

Senator MOLAN: I was just going to say, Deputy Secretary, that my understanding is that the presidential statements have now been made twice, and twice that state has come out and clarified the situation, returning it to strategic ambiguity. Is that your understanding—once in August and once in October?

Mr Hayhurst : I'm aware of the one in October. It's possible before, and it's not uncommon, indeed, for officials to give greater context and clarity around presidential statements.

Senator MOLAN: Thank you. That's all I've got.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator WONG: May I just follow something up very quickly?

CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Senator WONG: I just wanted to be clear. I have seen and given bipartisan support to the comments that I think a DFAT spokesperson has made in relation to the escalation in incursions into the ADIZ. I just wanted to check with you whether you are able in this forum to tell us whether those concerns have been communicated in non-public ways to the Chinese.

Mr Hayhurst : We have made our concerns about this known to China, yes.

Senator WONG: Via our post in Beijing and/or here?

Mr Hayhurst : Correct.

Senator PATRICK: Can I just check—at a ministerial level?

Mr Hayhurst : At officials level, that's right.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. I was just clarifying that. Has Australia warned China in any way about the possible consequences of a confrontation in the Taiwan Straits, including, for example, the consequences for China's access to vital commodities required for its economy?

Mr Hayhurst : We haven't gone into detail, but it's our position that a conflict of any sort across the strait would be a catastrophe for regional security. That's very clearly known and has been conveyed in those terms.

Senator PATRICK: But I presume that, without necessarily taking a side—so I'm not asking you to depart from your ambiguity in relation to Taiwan—that, in the event that there were conflict, I don't think the denial of our commodities to China would necessarily sit on any particular side. I would have thought that informing China of the consequences, the difficulties, the likely prospect of us not conducting trade in a conflict would be something you might do?

Mr Hayhurst : We haven't had conversations of that character and nor have we entertained speculation about specific aspects of a hypothetical conflict, but it is clear that our position, like that of many other governments, is that any such conflict would be massively disastrous for the region and, at that sort of—

Senator WONG: And the world.

Mr Hayhurst : high-level assessment, that's the basis of our position and our representations. But we have not in any way gone into the level of detail that you're suggesting, just to be clear.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. In relation to President Biden's comments—and I understand what you've said about officials coming out afterwards—article IV of the ANZUS Treaty provides:

Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on any of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes.

Does the Australian government consider the Taiwan Straits to be part of the Pacific area for the purposes of the ANZUS Treaty?

Mr Hayhurst : Senator, I'm a little reluctant to get into interpretation of the treaty.

Senator WONG: Exactly.

Senator PATRICK: It's a public treaty, and—

Mr Hayhurst : I know, and I've got the article in front of me, but the article say it's an attack 'on any of the parties'.

Senator Payne: We're not going to engage in a hypothetical discussion on the circumstances in which the ANZUS Treaty might apply. Mr Hayhurst has gone through the approach that we are taking as a government. Our role, our engagement in shaping what is a changing strategic environment, is absolutely focused on avoiding conflict. That is the very clear approach we have taken in our two-plus-twos with Japan or our bilateral engagements with Japan. With our AUSMIN statement itself, we have been very clear about that.

Senator PATRICK: I'm not trying to suggest anything, but I would ask: isn't the Australian public entitled to know how the government interprets a treaty in which it has put its signature to?

Senator Payne: The Australian public would like to know that their government is very focused on avoiding conflict and of encouraging peaceful and constructive resolutions to differences in these circumstances.

Senator PATRICK: I will depart slightly from China—I might come back to it. Minister, I had a conversation with you a week or two ago about Barbados seeking access to COVID vaccines in some way, shape or form in light of news reporting that we may have some AstraZeneca which is due to expire. Specifically in relation to Barbados, have we offered vaccine and, more broadly, what are we doing in that space in respect of vaccines that are close to expiration and what we can do to assist other countries?

Senator Payne: Yes, you did. Our focus is on supporting countries directly in the Indo-Pacific, particularly the Pacific and South-East Asia, with the provision of vaccine doses. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Health have worked on the ability of Australia to transfer any excess doses to our region based on a set of criteria, which ensure the safety of those doses. I will ask the deputy secretary to expand on that.

Ms Klugman : As the minister said, the focus of Australia's vaccine access initiative is on the Indo-Pacific region. So Barbados is not within sight of that. Australia has, though, I will note, made a substantial contribution to the COVAX advanced market commitments. That is a global mechanism through which countries across the world can access vaccines. On our regional vaccines initiative, there is a combination of sources for us and one extremely important part of that is the offtake from Australian vaccine doses. We are now on a regime of at least 800,000 doses supplied from our domestic stocks for us to distribute offshore.

There is a process for us to make sure that the doses that we take from our onshore stock to deliver offshore meet all the right standards and are the same quality and the same integrity of supply chain records et cetera and the same care for expiry dates that we would apply to ourselves. The Prime Minister and the minister have made it clear to us as implementers of this initiative that we need to apply the same standards to our distribution offshore of vaccine doses as we apply to doses delivered into Australian arms.

Senator Payne: The aim is to actually maximise the use of the vaccine and we distribute them to our closest neighbours.

Senator PATRICK: Yes, but you won't waste any.

Senator Payne: No.

CHAIR: Senator McGrath has the call.

Senator McGRATH: Thank you, Senator Abetz. My questions relate to unexploded ordnance in the Pacific. Can the department advise the details, which have been reported in the Solomon Islands media, of the explosion of a World War II bomb in Honiara—specifically, the number of casualties and injuries?

Mr McDonald : There were reports on 25 October in relation to that. That matter is currently being investigated by the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and it appears that two people have been killed. It's still not clear whether it's actually in relation to an ordnance detonation. That's still being investigated, and there's support being provided from our Defence Force with the Solomon Islands police to investigate this further.

Senator McGRATH: Does the department have an estimated indication or a risk profile of how many explosive remnants from World War II remain in the Solomon Islands and then also across the broader Pacific?

Mr McDonald : I'm happy to take that on notice.

Senator Payne: I think it would be a very significant challenge in terms of this issue. It's not just an issue in the Solomon Islands, obviously; it's an issue in New Caledonia. The reason I know that is that I have previously been in Noumea at the time of the holding of Exercise Croix du Sud, which is a French led humanitarian assistance exercise in which Australia, multiple Pacific nations, the United States, Japan and others participate, and it was paused the morning that I was there because the Royal Australian Navy was engaged in assisting the government of New Caledonia in towing a World War II mine out of the harbour in Noumea and dealing with it, so that the exercise could proceed. We have a good EOD program, or explosive ordnance disposal program, and it has been helping in the Solomon Islands, but there have been some very tragic accidents where unexploded ordnance has ended up in the hands of civilians, and it has gone terribly wrong.

Senator McGRATH: Thank you, Minister. I will get to you shortly in terms of what the government and the department are doing presently. Do we keep information on how many instances there have been of ordnance having exploded? Do we have a list of injuries and casualties that have been caused by UXO from World War II?

Mr McDonald : As I said, I'll have to take that on notice, but of course, we've been working through our ordnance programs for some time, through our defence department, so we would work with them to look at the information you're requesting. In relation to that, it's an ongoing program for us. As the minister said, the government recently announced a $15 million program of additional funding for this, in terms of enhanced support, particularly around infrastructure works and equipment and training which are very important, as you'd understand, for people to understand the dangers around those sorts of things. This is an ongoing priority for us with our Australian Defence Force. In terms of the information, I'll take it on notice and get back to you.

Senator McGRATH: Are you able to expand upon the training aspect? My understanding is that the Solomon Islanders are used to these UXOs lying around the place. What does the training mean and what does the education mean, especially for children?

Mr McDonald : Part of it is raising awareness of the dangers. As you know, Senator, a number of these explosions have been caused when people are creating fires of some kind that then cause the explosion. So part of it is education around explaining that there is unexploded ordnance around the Solomon Islands and, therefore, being aware that some of the things that can cause a problem are explained to people. Also, I think that that training goes to expertise for the Solomon Islands government not only in terms of how you deal with an explosion when it occurs but also in relation to preventing that, in terms of their education with the community as well.

Senator McGRATH: You may need to take this one on notice, and it will be my final question. What about the United States and Japan? Are they working in partnership with us? Do they have their own programs to assist in terms of the training and the education and also the removal of UXOs?

Mr McDonald : Senator, if it's okay, I'll check that for you. I can certainly say that we're working very closely with the US and Japan and the region overall, so I'd just like to check that with our defence colleagues as well, and then I'll come back to you.

Senator McGRATH: Thank you very much. Senator Abetz, that concludes my questions. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator McGrath. Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Minister, you were going to check whether the Prime Minister had sought, or had not sought, a meeting with President Macron in the margins of the G20?

Senator Payne: I don't have that yet, Senator. Thank you for reminding me. I'll follow that up.

Senator WONG: Have you had any engagement with the French ambassador since his return?

Senator Payne: No. My chief of staff spoke to him once, if not twice, to arrange our meeting on this coming Monday.

Senator WONG: So this coming Monday will be your first meeting?

Senator Payne: Since his return—yes

Senator WONG: Are there any other initiatives, such as travel to France or meetings, that you, as foreign minister, are proposing to engage in in order to restore trust in the relationship?

Senator Payne: A number of activities, as you say, in terms of engagement. I will be in Europe later this year and will seek to speak with counterparts then. And, of course, I am clearly—and I have indicated this clearly—available to speak at any time.

Senator WONG: Have you sought a telephone call with your counterpart?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Has that been granted as yet?

Senator Payne: No.

Senator WONG: When did you seek it?

Senator Payne: On my departure from quarantine, I think, which was about two weeks ago.

Senator WONG: So, two weeks ago, you sought a telephone—

Senator Payne: I'll check on when—

Senator WONG: Approximately—

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: With the French foreign minister—Minister Le Drian?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: As yet, there's been no—

Sena tor Payne: Not as yet. It has not taken place, no.

Senator WONG: Has there been a response or has there been a response that's negative?

Senator Payne: No, we're awaiting a response.

Senator WONG: My next question is probably to Mr Hayhurst, who has been doing very well today. It may be to you or it may be to someone else. It concerns the announcement by the Indonesians as to what they describe as a loophole in the NPT which, on reporting, is part of the legal framework which enables us to have nuclear propelled submarines as long as they're not nuclear armed and still be NPT compliant. So it's obviously an important point. Did we have advance notice of their intention to raise this before it became public?

Mr Hayhurst : I don't know if we had advance notice of their intention to raise it. Our ambassador for arms control can talk about the specific details. We've engaged with them extensively on all matters relating to counterproliferation questions.

Senator WONG: In the context of AUKUS?

Mr Hayhurst : In the context of AUKUS.

Senator WONG: I understand that, but I want to know first: did we know before they went public that they would be pursuing this in the multilateral forum?

Mr Hayhurst : I'll have to check. I'm not aware.

Ms Gorely : I'm not aware of them raising it prior to us reading about it.

Senator WONG: And it's correct to say, is it not, that, in order to maintain compliance with the NPT and have nuclear propelled submarines, this aspect of the NPT—I don't want to call it a gap because that's pejorative—needs to be retained?

Ms Gorely : Sorry, Senator, I don't understand what you mean. Which aspect?

Senator WONG: I'll quote:

Indonesia will seek to address a 'loophole' in the nuclear non-proliferation treaty at an international review conference early next year that allows non-nuclear weapons states such as Australia to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

I assume you have read this or you have a brief on it?

Ms Gorely : Yes, definitely, Senator.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to truncate this because I don't want to spend a lot of time on this. The government's position and the opposition's position is that we want to stay compliant with the NPT. Can you tell me: if the NPT were changed in the way that the Indonesian official has publicly described, would that present a problem with our compliance in the event that we acquired nuclear propelled submarines?

Senator Payne: In the first instance, we don't agree that there is a loophole. So, as far as—

Senator WONG: That's why I was trying to use non-pejorative language. I was quoting. That's why I called it 'an aspect' or 'a design feature'.

Senator Payne: 'Aspect' is nice. We could go back to Senator Ayres!

Senator WONG: She just didn't understand, that's all, so I had to quote it.

Ms Gorely : We don't believe that the language of 'loophole' is accurate—

Senator WONG: Can we not get stuck on 'loophole'? I've moved on to the next bit.

Ms Gorely : We didn't know about the proposal before it was aired by the Indonesian official. But, as you know, the NPT, when it was concluded, is very carefully balanced—

Senator WONG: This is not helpful. I'm sorry. I just want to know: have we raised any concerns with the Indonesians about the approach?

Mr Hayhurst : We've just clarified in great detail our view of the non-proliferation obligations, and we've underlined firmly the commitment that the proposal we're working on with the United Kingdom and the United States will be consistent with the NPT and our obligations under it.

Senator WONG: What is Australia's attitude to the proposition which has been publicly stated that one more pillar should be added to the NPT, including non-peaceful usage of nuclear technology?

Ms Gorely : We would be very cautious about any suggestion that the NPT should be opened up for any reason.

Senator WONG: So our objection or our concerns are as a matter of process in opening it up rather than in relation to that specific proposition?

Ms Gorely : We don't believe it is necessary to open it up to deal with nuclear propulsion. It was something that was in the minds of the negotiators when it was negotiated, and it's not forbidden by the treaty.

Senator WONG: It's a diplomatic point—not a legal point about the NPT—that I'm trying to make. If what the official is proposing here, though, were to be adopted—this is hypothetical—it would be problematic for a position that both parties of government have, which is yes to nuclear propulsion and yes to NPT compliance; correct?

Senator Payne: I don't encourage officials to engage in hypotheticals, and we don't believe that there needs to be a fourth pillar added. We also don't believe that it would be at all in the interests of the prosecution of the core agreements under the NPT to open it up to renegotiate on these issues, given that it has 191 states parties.

Senator WONG: Obviously, Indonesia has a strong view about this. Are you concerned, Minister, that something has gone public about a proposition to be put to a multilateral forum without notice to Australia that has direct relevance to our AUKUS and submarines announcement?

Senator Payne: To reinforce what Mr Hayhurst said, we have been engaging very closely with Indonesia on the plan that Australia has announced on the acquisition, including on our commitment to do it in the strictest compliance with our NPT and our IAEA obligations. We'll continue to do that. I will discuss that with my counterpart in our next engagement, and we will be very clear about our positions, as we've stated here today.

Senator WONG: But you had no notice of it.

Senator Payne: Of an official making a statement, no.

Senator WONG: But it's not just an official making a statement; it's an official making a statement which goes directly to an AUKUS response. It goes directly to their response to our announcement. Let's not pretend.

Senator Payne: No, I'm not pretending. The statement was made by the official in the context of their role. I am pleased that I am able to engage frankly and openly with my Indonesian counterparts, and we will continue to do that. I think we are working very closely in Indonesia on these issues.

Senator WONG: I'm going to PNG now. Thank you, Mr Hayhurst and Ms Gorely. Does someone want to update me on the situation in PNG: latest case numbers, regional spread, the capacity of the current health system, current population, vaccination rates? And then I want to ask a set of questions about what we're doing and about the vaccination program. Can we do the update first, please?

Mr McDonald : Daily on these we're doing IDCs that I chair to make sure we're monitoring exactly what's happening. The latest situation, as you know, is quite concerning. This is the third wave, and the Delta variant is at least confirmed in 12 of the 22 provinces but is probably more broadly circulating. Data is a problem. Data is not as robust as we would all like, and the testing, as you said, is very low. As of 23 October, there were 27,627 cases reported and 335 deaths reported.

Senator WONG: Sorry?

Mr McDonald : There are 27,627 COVID-19 cases and 3,334 of those are active at the moment. There have been 335 deaths confirmed as of 23 October, but, as I mentioned earlier, the data is a challenge on this.

There are 12 provinces that have been declared high risk in PNG, and I can give you those if you wish. The other thing on vaccines is vaccine numbers have been very low and have been of concern for some time. In April, the weekly average was about a thousand vaccines a week. In July it was about 5,000, and currently it's about 35,000. So we are seeing some change. Of course, this is PNG led, and they have a national coordination centre that we're working very closely with, which is looking at changing their approach to a province-by-province approach with this outbreak. That's trying to change the dynamic, in terms of province governors having the lead in trying to increase some of those.

Senator WONG : Can you decode that for me, please?

Mr McDonald : When the vaccine rollout started it was a national approach to vaccine rollout. In PNG, the provinces—and we pick this up through the data. If you look at the vaccines across the board, for example, in Western Province the vaccine numbers are much higher than they are in some of the other provinces where they're very low. A province-by-province is looking at the needs of those provinces. For example, if there's large hesitancy in there, how can we deal with hesitancy? It's that sort of approach. They're doing a blueprint at the moment. It's not yet approved, but we're supporting them in the drafting of that.

Senator WONG: And that blueprint will go to, amongst other things, a more regionally focused rollout of vaccines. Will it go to vaccine hesitancy as well?

Mr McDonald : Yes. So a comprehensive—

Senator WONG: Okay.

Mr McDonald : The other major problem has been hesitancy. I know you're familiar with this, but PNG has a very low immunisation rate anyway, about 40 per cent.

Senator WONG: Where are we at on COVID vaccines? Did you give me the number before?

Mr McDonald : Sorry. COVID vaccines at the moment in total—

Senator WONG: Percentage of the population?

Mr McDonald : If you take the adult population, it’s about 4.5 per cent that have had—

Senator WONG: So 4.5 per cent of—what—16-plus, or 18-plus?

Mr McDonald : Eighteen-plus, that will be, who have had at least one dose.

Senator WONG: Four and a half?

Mr McDonald : Yes, 4.5 per cent. And about 2.6 per cent have had a double dose. This varies. A good example is if you look at the Treaty Villages. First dose is 56 per cent and second dose is 29 per cent. So that’s good example of how it varies across the country. But, overall—

Senator WONG: Is this Saibai and—

Mr McDonald : No. Saibai is on the Australian side.

Senator WONG: Yes. So I—

Mr McDonald : Sorry, the Treaty—

Senator Payne: Mabudawan, Daru, places like that.

Senator WONG: Right. Okay.

Mr McDonald : Yes. I think it’s worth saying, Senator Wong, that there has been a lot of outreach from Minister Payne with Minister Wong, who is a health minister in PNG, who has the overarching responsibility with David Manning, who’s the coordinator of the NCC.

Senator WONG: Okay. Current hospital capacity and the state of the health system?

Mr McDonald : On this, I think the AUSMAT deployments have been very important. As you know, the government—the foreign minister and the minister for international development—have just announced the sixth deployment.

Senator Payne: Arriving today?

Mr McDonald : It arrived yesterday, I think.

Senator Payne: Arrived yesterday. Sorry.

Mr McDonald : Yes. So, Senator Wong, there are two bits to this. One is the clinical, in terms of the way the numbers are dealt with as they present at the hospital. The other thing is that logistics in the country is very challenging. As you know, there is the geographic dispersion and the ability to get these out to the provinces. So AUSMAT are looking at both of those aspects. Mark Little and two other AUSMATers—this is the third time they’ve been there; they are very committed and known in the PNG system. So you're right; that’s absolutely a challenge. The other is oxygen. The government has provided another 247 cylinders over the weekend.

Senator Payne: Oxygen concentrators.

Mr McDonald : Yes.

Senator WONG: The Red Cross and Red Crescent called for concerted international action to prevent massive loss of life in the coming weeks and days, on 25 October—that was Monday. Has the PNG government sought any further assistance over and above what we have been providing?

Senator Payne: There’s a British team in Goroka at the moment as well. That’s similar to an AUSMAT team but they have a different acronym. There is that. I'll ask Mr McDonald to talk about the WHO and other action.

Mr McDonald : Yes.

Senator WONG: Context: International Red Cross saying ‘massive loss of life, international community has to step up’. Question: has the PNG government in the last week sought any further assistance from Australia?

Mr McDonald : All the assistance they have and when they have sought that assistance, we have provided it. As you know, this has been going on since February 2020. There are challenges here in terms of calling for international assistance. One is emergency medical teams. As the minister just said, the UK have just arrived in country. The other is that we are using our NGOs on the ground as well to support us. But the reality—from the leader of our AUSMAT team—is that this is a chronic health challenge going forward. So you need to look at this in two dimensions; firstly, dealing with the short-term, some of the issues you talked about earlier, but how do we build capability going forward. Similar to in Australia, you're seeing in provinces a sort of two-month cycle of COVID going through and peaking and then starting to come down like it did here in Australia. It’s important that we’re building within the health system under PNG government leadership the resilience—

Senator WONG: I appreciate all that. I think you will decline to—but I assume you have a working number of multiple actual reported cases you think are actually the load?

Mr McDonald : I don’t have a multiple. What I have is an understanding that the data for a variety of reasons is not robust.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Mr McDonald : And that’s the assumption we are working on.

Senator WONG: But do we have a planning assumption of how many—

Mr McDonald : Yes. I think the best way to do that is to observe it. So our AUSMAT team has gone out into those—

Senator WONG: Yes. Do you have a planning assumption about current case load?

Mr McDonald : No, I don’t.

Senator WONG: Okay. The AUSMAT team—we’ve sent another AUSMAT team to PNG; is that right?

Mr McDonald : Yes, we have.

Senator WONG: Last week?

Mr McDonald : We sent one last week and we sent one yesterday.

Senator WONG: Okay. So how many AUSMAT members are in PNG at the moment?

Mr McDonald : I think it’s 13. Ms Duff can correct me if I’m wrong.

Senator WONG: Ms Duff?

Ms Duff : Yes, 13 currently, including the additional that went in yesterday evening.

Senator WONG: Where are they deployed?

Ms Duff : They're currently in Port Moresby.

Senator WONG: All of them?

Ms Duff : Currently, yes. There are plans to do some further regional travel. The team that deployed initially on the 16th made visits to Goroka, Mount Hagen and Lae. The intention of that was to talk to local health authorities and determine whether or not there was more practical advice they could offer. The forward program will be for more visits to regional centres.

Senator WONG: Okay. So, on notice, just because of time constraints, can you give me—of the 13, what they're doing, qualifications et cetera? I assuming—and you can on notice provide this—that the focus rather than being front-line engagement is much more around trying to provide assistance to strengthen the health systems. Correct?

Ms Duff : Yes.

Mr McDonald : Yes.

Senator WONG: And the rollout of the vaccine at a regional level? Correct?

Mr McDonald : Yes.

Senator WONG: Are we engaging on the disinformation and vaccine hesitancy issue at all? And how are we doing that?

Mr McDonal d : Yes. There are a couple of ways we’re doing it. We’re working with the PNG government to try and deal with the incorrect messaging through Facebook, which, as you know, is very big in PNG. We are also doing a ‘sleeves-up campaign’ using key sportspeople and those sorts of things to assist—

Senator WONG: Their sportspeople? People they would know?

Mr McDonald : Yes. Correct. Exactly. I should have clarified—absolutely. Hesitancy is definitely one of the areas. The other area I wanted to mention was—and it’s not directly related to your question but it’s probably worth raising—that yesterday a team of Australian Defence Force personnel went across as well to work with the PNG Defence Force because there’s a need to train in vaccinations et cetera to help get that rate up. So that’s another area.

Senator WONG: And presumably local provision is central to getting the rate up.

Mr McDonald : Exactly. So there’s trust.

Senator WONG: Yes. Can I go to Western Province and the Treaty Villages. You would have seen some media reports of Treaty Villages in PNG’s Western Province which are now relying on food and medical supplies from Daru because there is a ban on food drops from Saibai and Boigu—is that how one says it? I’ve been to Saibai; I haven't been to Boigu. These islands are obviously Australian territory. Can you tell me what is your understanding of how Treaty Villages in PNG can ensure essential supplies if they're not permitted to obtain them from the islands in Australian territory?

Mr McDonald : They grow a lot of their own food.

Senator WONG: Really?

Mr McDonald : We have a ranger program as well that monitors on a monthly basis food and water security. So that’s happening on a monthly basis. We have done food drops in the past and we will do them again where that’s needed. The travel of Treaty Villages—as you probably recall, Senator, it’s about a 250 kilometre span.

Senator WONG: Yes.

Mr McDonald : The travel to Daru is for a variety of reasons. We know that because we’ve surveyed them. Some of them are family connections. Some of them are health related. So they're not simply about food and water. They move around a lot. There are some maps that are done that show how much movement there is in the Treaty Villages. It's not a straightforward matter to deal with but we're monitoring it very closely. In terms of the border, I think the other thing to say is we've talked—I know the foreign minister has as well—around the leaders there, and they want that border remaining shut.

Senator WONG: Mr Entsch, on 17 September, labelled the response by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to this issue, the provision of food, as a 'bloody disgrace'. He said:

… only two supply rounds to the islands have been organised since the pandemic began …

And:

Early this year I was able to convince the department to supply basic food items for the treaty villages and we actually did two deliveries … The problem that we had was that instead of buying it, or sourcing it from stores on Saibai and Boigu where it always comes from, they bought it out of Port Moresby.

So there was criticism of that. In the case of the deliveries to which he referred, were they done at his request and who approved them?

Mr McDonald : I would have to check whether they were at his request, but the member for Leichhardt is very—

Senator WONG: Why did he have to request it though?

Senator Payne: We engage on these matters regularly with Mr Entsch.

Senator WONG: You weren't doing it or you were doing it?

Mr McDonald : I will have to check that. This would have come out of our PNG post, and that's where the approval for the food drop would have occurred. I'm happy to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Okay. Are you aware that your colleague had labelled your department a bloody disgrace?

Senator Payne: Yes, I engage with Mr Entsch regularly on these matters. He is a user of very colourful language, at the best of times, as you would be aware.

CHAIR: Yes, he's known for it.

Senator Payne: As Mr McDonald has said, we are dealing with a closed border, including for traditional movement, because both the Papua New Guinean and Australian governments declared their borders closed in March. What the Indigenous leaders in the Torres Strait have made clear to the government, in formal consultations both with the Pacific bilateral division and the Torres Strait Treaty Joint Advisory Council meeting—a meeting that both I and the Minister for International Development in the Pacific had with them—is that they oppose the Torres Strait Islands, such as Saibai and Boigu, being used as a supply base or staging post for PNG, because of COVID risks. They are very concerned that assistance to the PNG treaty villages is delivered from within PNG, to minimise the impacts on their community in what are limited infrastructure and resources.

Senator WONG: So you don't agree with him.

Senator Payne : He and I have an ongoing discussion.

Senator WONG: But on this you don't agree with him.

Senator Payne: Not necessarily, no.

Senator WONG: I never know what that means.

Senator Payne: We have an ongoing discussion about it.

Senator WONG: He said your department's a bloody disgrace. I assume you don't agree with him on that?

Senator Payne: I certainly don't agree with that, absolutely not. I have a range of information here, which I would be very happy to provide you, but I think you'd prefer to have it on notice because it's very detailed. It goes to what we have been doing, particularly the work that post has been doing in making regular visits into the villages, on the PNG side, to make sure that we are providing the support—that they have what they need and, where they do not, that we provide the support that we are able to. Can I provide that to you on notice?

Senator WONG: Please, thank you; you are always welcome to provide stuff on notice. The minister referenced Torres Strait communities, in concerns about risk of exposure. What engagement is DFAT having with those communities and/or on ensuring vaccine rollout to Torres Strait communities who may be at risk of exposure?

Senator Payne: On the Australian side or the PNG side?

Senator WONG: On the Australian side.

Mr McDonald : On the Australian side, Queensland Health have that. We have those statistics, which Ms Duff can give.

Senator WONG: You leave it to the states?

Mr McDonald : For that side, yes.

Senator WONG: Do you engage about it?

Mr McDonald : Yes, absolutely.

Senator WONG: Because it's entirely relevant to the point that the minister is raising. In part, the problem of—the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone—Western Province and Daru, increased transmission there and food supplies, is a border-closure problem, but it is also about making sure the safety of the Torres Strait communities is retained. Correct?

Mr McDonald : Yes, that is correct.

Senator WONG: Do you engage with Queensland Health at all?

Mr McDonald : Yes, we do. On the IDC that I referred to, I talk to Queensland Health a lot about this issue. Also, on the treaty villages, it's worth saying that we've now finished our second run through those treaty villages—and, as you know, not only are they geographically dispersed but also the terrain is very difficult. We're going to do a third run now, because they're quite spread out, moving around. But the vaccination rates there are very positive—

Senator WONG: Yes, they're higher than in the broader population, aren't they?

Mr McDonald : Well, 56 per cent first dose. And I think the key to this, and learnings for us out of this, are that when we're providing communication and explanation then it's good to be able to vaccinate shortly after that, rather than come back. So, we're bringing a team, because, as you know, in treaty villages the leaders are the ones who are going to influence whether people—

Senator WONG: Well, that's most places, isn't it? That's life. Thank you very much.

Senator AYRES: I want to return to the saga of bookshelves, Brandis and the $¼ million deck. I was informed over the break—thank you—that the works have been completed. Did the scope of works increase from the original proposition?

Ms Sidhu : Perhaps I could just correct an assumption that I suspect you're working on. The document that you appear to have is not the final plan. It is one of a number of feasibility plans that were provided, as we always do, at the start of a project; we consider it. The plan as you have it is not what we proceeded with. So perhaps I could just clarify that point, and then we can go from there.

Senator AYRES: So the plan was amended as you were going through the approval process and dealing with engineers and architects and—

Ms Sidhu : Yes, and we make assessments around cost and feasibility and obviously a whole bunch of considerations. As the minister mentioned, this is also a heritage building, so of course we have to look at those aspects as well. Before the works, those elements of the building were in considerable disrepair, so there was quite a bit of work that needed to be done. That's really the story.

Senator AYRES: Did the cost of the project get bigger, or smaller, as the—

Ms Sidhu : It got smaller. We had budgeted—I'm just trying to get my numbers—

Ms Pitson : I'm happy to help. We had budgeted for $444,157.44, which was the amount included in the answer to the question on notice. The total cost of the project, which concluded in April, came to $439,730. So, it was less.

Senator AYRES: Thank you. The design I have here has this Flushglaze walk-on deck. Did that get incorporated into the final design?

Ms Pitson : No. We speculate, as Ms Sidhu said, that you have a feasibility. The Flushglaze walk-on roof and mono installed pavers on adjustable feet were removed from the final scope, and that helped to save some money.

CHAIR: That spoils your media release!

Senator AYRES: Oh, no, I don't think so! And I'm sure you'll be disappointed to learn that that's the case!

Ms Pitson : Perhaps I could also add that the skylight was removed and covered with standard paving.

Senator AYRES: Okay, but it still cost over $400,000—the total amount. So, removal of those very expensive features—what elements of the project—

Ms Pitson : There was quite a bit of work done on that proj

Project particulars included the roof terrace refurbishment, which we've been discussing, which included to renew the roof build up and provide a 20-year water tightness warranty; to reconstruct and raise the balustrade to a height of 1.1 metre in compliance with building regulations; to repair and redecorate the balustrade and the building elevation; and to install lead lighting. Additional works also include a chimney commissioning, so we cut out the chimney breast brickwork and manually clear a blockage; repair the brickwork, replaster and redecorate the wall; install flue liner. It also included damp repairs; repair and redecorate cracked wall internally and externally; repair and redecorate damaged skirting board. It included window replacement and ventilation installation: replace all existing windows, redecorate window reveals, heads and seals, and install extractor fans and air bricks. There was quite a program of work.

Senator AYRES: It's like Grand Designs. Mr Brandis has had a history of expensive taste.

CHAIR: Is this a question or editorialising?

Sena tor AYRES: It's easier to ask the question if you're not interrupted halfway through, Chair.

Senator Payne: I know that's an interesting point, Senator.

Senator AYRES: I do recall, as would you, Chair, that Mr Brandis, when using public money for fit-outs, was extravagant in his previous role. The difference with this Grand Designs project to other Grand Designs projects is, of course, that he's using public money. Will these renovations they enable Mr Brandis—High Commissioner Brandis, I should say—to host more diplomatic functions?

Ms Pitson : These renovations would have been done as part of our regular asset maintenance program.

Senator WONG: 'Would be'—I hate that phrase.

Ms Pitson : I'm sorry.

Senator WONG: When officials say 'would be', it means they're answering in the general not the specific. Were they or were they not?

Ms Pitson : Yes. These renovations were done as part of our asset—

Senator WONG: So he had nothing to do with asking for them?

Ms Pitson : No.

Senator WONG: No-one believes that. We all know him.

Senator Payne: You can't expect the official to respond to that.

CHAIR: That is editorialising, Senator Wong. Moving right along!

Senator WONG: That end of the table.

Senator Payne: The official is not going to respond to that.

Senator AYRES: I do want to go to some of the functions. Can the department confirm that the High Commissioner hosted a reception for an organisation known as the Conservative Friends of Australia at the 2021 British Conservative Party Conference on 26 October?

Ms Campbell : I'm not sure we're going to have that information. We'll see what we've got. We're happy to take what we can't on notice.

Senator AYRES: Thank you, Ms Campbell.

Mr Geering : Yes, there or is a group that's part of the Conservative Party. There are a number of these 'friends of' organisations, and there is a group called the Conservative Friends of Australia. The High Commissioner did attend an event that they put on as part of the Conservative Party Conference.

Senator Payne: To be clear, Senator, were you suggesting the event was held by the High Commissioner? If that is your suggestion, my understanding is that is not the case.

Senator AYRES: No, it's an event held by the Conservative Party.

Senator Payne: Which he attended.

Senator WONG: Can you take that on notice?

Senator AYRES: In the High Commissioner's residence?

Senator Payne: No. We're at cross-purposes.

Senator WONG: Hang on. Yes, there is an event. We're asking whether the High Commissioner hosted any event for that event at Stoke Lodge?

Senator Payne: We will take that on notice. We're currently talking at cross-purposes.

Senator AYRES: Would you take that on notice? Were attendees to that event asked to support, join or donate to the Conservative Friends of Australia?

Mr Geering : I'd have to take that question on notice.

Senator AYRES: This was at the conference. High Commissioner Brandis attended. What was the nature of his attendance at the conference?

Mr Geering : The High Commissioner attended the conference. He gave—he spoke and he also had meetings with a fairly large number of members of the party.

Senator AYRES: So he met with members of parliament—

Mr Geering : Yes, including, as I'm sure you are aware, with Minister Truss.

Senator AYRES: Yes. You're saying he presented at a conference event?

Mr Geering : Yes.

Senator AYRES: What was the nature of that event?

Mr Geering : My notes say 'he presented'. I should note, as they did at the UK Labour Party conference a bit earlier, but I will take on notice the nature of the presentations given.

CHAIR: So Mr Brandis attended the Labour Conference?

Mr Geering : Yes.

Senator AYRES: I'm going to come to Labour Conference in a moment, Chair. I'm told that it was an event about free market environmentalism, hosted by the Adam Smith Institute, that he was a panel speaker on. Is that right?

Mr Geering : I would have to take that on notice and get that information for you.

Senator WONG: Hang on, guys. I have an issue. Does no-one in the department know what this bloke is doing? Why do we have to keep taking it on notice?

CHAIR: Assertions are being made—

Senator Payne: Senator Ayres is asking about individual events in High Commissioner Brandis's—

Senator WONG: I do recall that previous secretaries used to be able to answer these questions about Senator Brandis's activities. So why are you coming without capacity?

Senator Payne: High Commissioner Brandis.

Senator WONG: I don't care what his title is.

Senator AYRES: I know about much of this because—

Senator WONG: Unlike him and unlike you, I don't have quite as much forelock tugging in me. Whatever he is—Mr Brandis, High Commissioner Brandis.

Senator Payne: That is definitely my nature, Senator.

Senator WONG: Well, why can't you answer?

Mr Geering : I don't have the detail with me, I'm sorry.

Senator WONG: That hasn't been the case for some time, I'm afraid, my friend.

Senator Payne: No comment.

Senator WONG: It's unbelievable.

Se nator AYRES: Much of this is on the public record, because of Mr Brandis's extensive social media around his activity at the Conservative Party Conference. There are many social media entries for that. I don't follow High Commissioner Brandis on social media, but somebody on the staff team obviously does. He did, as you say, attend the UK Labour event. There's no record of that in social media land. Can you tell me what he did there? Was he as enthusiastic a participant at the Labour event as at the Conservative event?

Mr Geering : My advice is that he had meetings with the shadow foreign secretary, the shadow climate change secretary and attended quite a few of the events at the conference.

Senator AYRES: So he's big on one side of politics in the UK, but not on the other?

Senator Payne: I think that is not what Mr Geering just said. He attended a range of things.

Senator AYRES: He attended a few events. There's very little evidence of his enthusiastic engagement. He didn't feel any need to publicise his engagement at the Labour conference?

Senator Payne: I don't know, Senator. Post will do what it deems appropriate in terms of social media. I'm not sure whether they were invited to host a British Labour friends of Australia event. If they were, they would do that. It's a matter for their engagement on a day-to-day basis. But we will provide whatever information we can for you in relation to these matters on notice.

Senator AYRES: I'm sorry, the officer on the renovation left the front table.

Senator Payne: Ms Pitson.

Senator AYRES: On notice, could I be provided with the final plans and when the final plans were submitted to council? I'm a bit interested to see if the final plans were arrived with after questions on notice started to arrive on the renovation. Can you confirm that High Commissioner Brandis hosted another event at Stoke Lodge for the Conservative Friends of Australia, their first event, on 6 August?

Mr Geering : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator AYRES: So you know about his attendance at the event—

Mr Geering : I'm aware of his attendance at the party event. I don't have something on the 6th.

Senator AYRES: But you're not aware if he hosted at the newly renovated Stoke Lodge?

Mr Geering : I don't have that information.

Senator WONG: But you managed to come prepared with the Labour Party event as cover.

Mr Geering : I've got what I've got.

Senator WONG: Who prepared your brief?

Mr Geering : My staff prepared my brief.

Senator WONG: Did your staff look at his Twitter feed? They can't work out what he's done? Seriously.

Senator Payne: Senator Ayres, as I understand it, and I don't know about the timing of your questions on notice, but the construction contract was awarded in December 2020 in relation to—

Senator AYRES: In relation to the final plans?

Senator Payne: The refurbishments.

Senator AYRES: In relation to the refurbishments. I'm interested in the final—

Senator Payne: I presume you can't award a contract—

Senator AYRES: Let's see.

Senator Payne: We shall see.

Senator AYRES: So you can't tell me who approved that event?

Senator Payne: It would not be approved per se. An event hosted by the High Commissioner would go through his normal processes to manage such an event.

Senator AYRES: I'd like to know how many people attended it, what was the cost of the event and how many Australian High Commission staff attended.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator AYRES: How can it be consistent with APS values for the High Commissioner to host partisan events at the residence?

Senator Payne: In my experience, across many years, a vast range of events are hosted at Australia's posts and residences. In the political context, in the conduct of the 2020 US election I recall staff from posts and from the consulates around the United States going to Democrat rallies, to Republican rallies, to Democrat conventions and to Republican conventions—

Senator AYRES: I don't want to interrupt, because I agree with you that there is an enormous effort taken by missions overseas, particularly when they are appointments from politics, to walk both sides of the fence—particularly in the United States but in other jurisdictions as well. Politicians from both major parties have been appointed to those roles and have put enormous effort into getting that right. Mr Peacock did it, others did it, and I'm very aware of that. What I'm concerned about is whether this bloke is doing it. The enthusiasm with which he approaches the task on the conservative side is of an entirely different proportion to the approach he takes more broadly in British politics.

CHAIR: That's editorialising. Is there a question?

Senator Payne: That's your view.

Senator AYRES: It's evident from his social media stream and from the kinds of events that he hosts. I want to know how that's consistent with, one, the APS values and two, our national interest.

Senator Payne: Mr Geering, from the evidence that I heard, placed on record the High Commissioner's engagement through the British Labour Party in terms of its convention, including meeting shadow ministers and senior leadership. I've spoken directly to the High Commissioner about his engagement with Sir Keir Starmer on a number of issues during the period in which Sir Starmer has been the leader and, preceding that, when in my role I met British Labour members who have come to Australia, including the former shadow foreign secretary. I have engaged with—

Senator AYRES: I'm not criticising you, I'm just very conscious of his conduct—

Senator Payne: No, but I'm saying that I've engaged with the High Commissioner on those directly as part of his role.

Senator AYRES: This Conservative Friends of Australia outfit says that its mission is to build closer ties between the conservative political parties of Australia and the United Kingdom. How is the use of taxpayers' funds to host events for this organisation consistent with the national interest?

Senator Payne: We've taken a number of questions on notice and we'll respond to those.

Senator WONG: As foreign minister, how is it appropriate? Senator Ayres has given you the purpose of the Conservative Friends of Australia. There's a lot of enthusiastic pictures on social media of people toasting each other with champagne or whatever. Senator Ayres' question to you as foreign minister is: how is it appropriate?

Senator Payne: I want to understand the nature of the event before I respond. I think that's only appropriate.

Senator AYRES: When was Mr Brandis appointed?

Senator Payne: In 2018.

Senator AYRES: He's held the position for over three years. Is that longer than most diplomatic postings?

Senator Payne: I understand the agreed term of the appointment was four years. It was not an appointment that I made.

Senator WONG: They're forever appointments—not just forever friends!

Senator AYRES: Is it proposed that there be an extension to his position?

Senator Payne: I don't have any comment to make on that. These are matters for the government.

Senator AYRES: So there is active consideration—

Senator Payne: No—

Senator AYRES: of whether Mr Brandis's term gets extended?

Senator Payne: that is actually not what I said, Senator, and you saying that does not make it what I said.

Senator AYRES: I'm asking the question. Elevated inflection at the end indicates that it's a question, I think.

Senator Payne: You sound like my elocution teacher, Senator.

Senator AYRES: Yes.

Senator Payne: You just admitted to sounding like an elocution teacher!

Senator AYRES: I don't have as rounded vowels as Mr Brandis does, but—

Senator WONG: He's from Glen Innes!

Senator Payne: I know he's from Glen. I get it.

Senator AYRES: But I want to know: is the government giving it some thought?

Senator Payne: Those are matters for government. I don't have any comment to add to that.

Senator WONG: So you're ruling out reappointing him? Does he ever, ever end his little sojourn in the mother country, which he appears to be enjoying so much?

Senator Payne: It's an interesting way to describe an appointment that has brought us the Australia-UK FTA, just for starters.

Senator AYRES: Is it really a symbol of—

Senator WONG: Are you really suggesting he did that? Poor old trade ministers—they're irrelevant to George!

Senator Payne: I'm seriously suggesting that the high commissioner has made a significant contribution with his team to delivering the UK FTA—yes, I am.

Senato r WONG: 'With his team'.

Senator AYRES: Mr Brandis, despite his faults, was probably on our side. I'm not sure what Mr Abbott was doing while he was over there!

Senator Payne: There's some more editorialising. Anything else I can help you with?

Senator AYRES: We've moved from forever friends to forever appointments, have we?

Senator Payne: That is a comment of yours, Senator.

CHAIR: Has he finished his first term of appointment?

Senator Payne: No.

CHAIR: So this talk about 'forever' is just hyperbole, is it not, Minister?

Senator Payne: Well described, Chair.

Senator WONG: It's October 2021. He's got till May.

Senator AYRES: I think it's a reasonable question. I think Senator Wong has more questions.

Senator WONG: I have no more on this, you will be pleased to know. I will try and do this part quickly. We've got a fair bit to get through. Can we go to international climate change, please. Firstly, on attendance at the COP: we know that the Prime Minister is taking a delegation from PM&C—is it 10 staff and nine officials?—and we know that the energy minister is taking one official and two staff. Is that right? How many DFAT officials are going?

Ms Klugman : The Australian delegation from the DFAT side will be 10 officials, led by my colleague at the end of the table, Mr Jamie Isbister, who is our ambassador for the environment.

Senator WONG: Can you provide a list of respective levels and roles, on notice, please.

Ms Klugman : We can.

Senator WONG: You're not attending, Minister, and none of your staff are?

Senator Payne: No.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me: has Australia provided a revised NDC at this point?

Ms Klugman : Australia recommunicated our NDC in 2020, I believe.

Mr Isbister : It was in December last year.

Ms Klugman : The Prime Minister has said that we will update and recommunicate the NDC for COP26.

Senator WONG: So, as yet, we have not done so?

Ms Klugman : As yet, we have not done so.

Senator WONG: As I understand the Prime Minister's announcement, the update will retain the actual target that we communicated in 2015, which was 26 to 28 per cent, but will include a projection for 2030 of 35 per cent. Am I correct?

Ms Klugman : Correct—between 30 and 35 per cent, as the Prime Minister announced.

Senator WONG: And that's a projection?

Ms Klugman : Correct.

Senator WONG: Is it intended that the NDC will also include an 'aspiration'—or other term—in relation to 2050?

Ms Klugman : The NDC will communicate that Australia has adopted that target of net zero by 2050.

Senator WONG: As a target?

Ms Klugman : Correct.

Senator WONG: As the word 'target'?

Ms Klugman : Correct—that's my understanding.

Senator WONG: In terms of the legal framework of the NDC within the Paris Agreement, the only legally binding aspect—in so far as anything in international law is actually legally binding—of the NDC are the targets in relation to 2030 at this point, correct?

Ms Klugman : You're asking—could you repeat the question please, Senator?

Senator WONG: The architecture of the Paris Agreement is, here's the overarching architecture; you update your chapter or pledge under the agreement, which is known as the NDC—

Ms Klugman : Correct.

Senator WONG: The interaction of that architecture, as I understand it, results in the only internationally legally binding aspect of the NDC, which is in fact the 2030 target.

Ms Klugman : Mr Isbister? Ambassador, do you know the answer to that?

Mr Isbister : It's a requirement under the Paris Agreement to submit the NDC. You've got to submit a target. The target needed to be submitted as part of countries signing on to the Paris Agreement and then, depending on the data you target, you need to update your target each five years.

Senator WONG: So the obligation relates to the target?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Does the Paris Agreement also go to projections? Is that a term that's understood as something to be included in the NDC in the agreement?

Ms Klugman : The NDC is really up to a country in terms of what it reflects into its agreement.

Senator WONG: But the character of the international agreement from Paris looked to—as you correctly describe, I should have used the term 'obligation', rather than 'legally binding'—a set of obligations for countries to do essentially two things: lodge an NDC and include in that a target for 2030. Is that correct?

Mr Isbister : Yes, a target. Some countries included a 2025 target.

Senator WONG: An interim target?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Does the Paris Agreement itself contemplate a projection in the NDC?

Mr Isbister : It doesn't project because a lot of countries include policy measures and commitments that they're taking forward that go beyond the simple targets. India, for example, have committed to 450 gigawatts of solar being included as part of—

Senator WONG: Yes, people have put in how they're going to get there and stuff like that. Has anyone else tried to jazz up their actual target by including a projection?

Mr Isbister : Plenty of countries have projections of how they'll succeed in—

Senator WONG: In the NDC?

Mr Isbister : Senator, I'd have to take it on notice whether they've been included.

Senator WONG: That's what we've done. Just to be clear, the actual target which we are obliged to lodge and which we are backing is the same target that Mr Abbott put in: 26 to 28?

Mr Isbister : That's right.

Ms Klugman : That's correct—for 2030.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Ms Klugman : Of course, projections are useful because they not just say what you're promising but use the data available and make calculations, on the basis of the past, about what you've already achieved, the pathway in place and the policies that you—

Senator WONG: I understand the policy argument; the reality is he didn't want to up the target for internal political reasons, but let's not get into that.

Senator Payne: What the Prime Minister has said is that it is what this government took to the election in 2019, which was endorsed by the Australian people in that context, but we have been able to show that, although the target was 26 to 28 per cent, the latest forecasts show we will reduce emissions by 30 to 35 per cent by 2030.

Senator WONG: Anybody watching the national media over the last week and a half knows that this is all strung together in order to try and keep Mr Joyce in the car.

Senator Payne: Senator, that's your political commentary; that's is a matter for you, but I am telling you what the forecasts were—

Senator WONG: I won't get this done before lunch, Chair, because I've got a lot more now.

CHAIR: Alright, we'll get an extra minute.

Proceedings suspended from 12:29 to 13:31

CHAIR: The committee is resumed, and Senator Patrick has the call.

Senator PATRICK: I again want to go to questions related to China, the Olympics and Hong Kong. I wanted to do a follow-up. Minister, you talked about the Chinese ambassador leaving. I presume that's a change of posting. Is that correct?

Senator Payne: Yes; he's come to the conclusion of his term, as I understand it.

Senator PATRICK: Has Beijing nominated a new ambassador?

Senator Payne: I believe agrément is being sought.

Senator PATRICK: Sorry; I didn't catch that.

Senator Payne: Agrément. Without wishing to go into more French terms—the process of agreement for the taking up of the role of the new head of mission and ultimately then presentation of credentials to the Governor-General and so on.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much.

Senator Payne: Not that I'm a protocol expert, Senator. We have someone who does that, thankfully, for me.

Senator PATRICK: At least your French is better than mine. I just want to go to the comments about miscalculation in my last session. Is it DFAT's view that the miscalculation is more likely before or after the Beijing Olympics? I don't have the benefit of Senator Molan's new book; otherwise, I'd be much better informed in terms of the questions I was going to ask.

Senator MOLAN: Thank you.

Mr Hayhurst : Senator, when we were discussing this matter before, I was not making predictions or forecasts. I'm describing the situation now having a higher level of risk attached to it. I don't know how this will play out between now and the Olympics or beyond, but obviously it's an issue of concern, as I said before.

Senator PATRICK: Is the risk higher before or after the Olympics, in your view? Is that a factor?

Mr Hayhurst : Not as far as I can see. But, obviously, a lot will depend on the actions and decisions of other governments, and we'll watch that. But I'm not sure that the Olympics is directly relevant to this.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. I will ask some questions about the Olympics now. Will any Australian government ministers be attending the Beijing Winter Olympic Games in February 2022?

Mr Hayhurst : I will have to take it on notice, but I don't think any decisions have been made. I'm not sure it's clear what entry, COVID and other arrangements will be put in place by the host government. The event, I don't think, is until March next year. We will have to come back to you.

CHAIR: I would say from the chair that other matters are not exercising our minds as much as the issue of whether we want to give credibility to this particular regime with all its human rights abuses.

Senator PATRICK: And I'll put on the record that I share a similar view to that of Senator Abetz in relation to that. When does a decision need to be made in the context of the time frame to notify the Chinese officials?

Mr Hayhurst : I don't know. I will have to take it on notice, and it's probably a matter for—

Senator Payne: The Office for Sport.

Mr Hayhurst : yes, and the Olympic Organizing Committee.

Senator Payne: Obviously, we are conscious of the issues that you are raising and other senators, including Senator Abetz, have raised, and we will take those details on notice and come back to you.

Senator PATRICK: So arrangements for hotels and so forth are done by individual departments, not by Foreign Affairs?

Senator Payne: To be fair, I'm not an expert on the arrangements for Olympic guest accommodation. I can't help you with that, but we will find out what we can and come back to you.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. What about Australian officials? Are any senior Australian government officials attending the Beijing games?

Senator Payne: As Mr Hayhurst has said, the arrangements for the events have not yet been advised. That is my understanding.

Mr Hayhurst : Certainly, as the minister said, not so as to able to make any decisions about these matters. The one thing that Australian officials are doing, as they always do before any event, is engaging with the Australian Olympic Committee, because athletes are planned to attend and there are consular and other arrangements that will be required. There is some consultation about that but nothing further, to my knowledge. We'll have to check. I don't have an extensive briefing on the interactions.

Senator PATRICK: I would have thought officials might have been a government-to-government matter, rather than through the AOC.

Senator Payne: Senator, I think that if you have a range of questions on this, it is probably better for us to take the questions on notice and get the right information through the Office for Sport and the relevant part of the department. It's certainly not managed by Deputy Secretary Hayhurst at this point in time, unless he wishes to take up a booking role that I'm not aware of.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. I thought there might have been some discussion, noting the sensitivities that Senator Abetz has raised and I have raised.

Senator Payne: And I'm aware of the sensitivities, Senator. You and I have discussed that, and I have discussed it with Senator Abetz as well.

Senator PATRICK: I'm just saying that it's not a case of travel bookings per se.

Senator Payne: I know.

Senator PATRICK: There are some serious considerations that need to be made, and your department would have to be involved in that, I would have thought.

Senator Payn e: Absolutely.

CHAIR: Just quickly in relation to China, COVID aside, is the travel advisory still one that suggests that arbitrary arrest might be a problem?

Senator Payne: Those aspects of the travel advice won't have changed. What has changed today is that the department has issued a range of updated travel advice. We will withdraw the 'Do not travel' advice, which was COVID related. The flow-on of that is about, I think, 177 country-specific travel advice changes. But those core aspects of the advice have not changed.

CHAIR: The other advisories don't change?

Senator Payne: That's right.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Ms Campbell : They may not quite be up on the website. We're just loading them now.

Senator Payne: Yes, we're in the process.

Senator PATRICK: I have checked this and it says, 'You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds.' I presume that is still the current warning?

Mr Hayhurst : As the minister just said, that same advice is in the updated travel advice about to be loaded on the website.

Senator PATRICK: I note that Amnesty International are withdrawing from Hong Kong and they have had some things to say about the circumstances there. Can you provide an update on your assessment of the situation in Hong Kong and especially the use of the new national security laws and other measures to suppress and persecute democratic activities in Hong Kong?

Mr Hayhurst : I can provide an update. I think the phrase I would use is in fact the one in the statement or the Tweet by the minister on 22 October, which talked about the systematic unravelling of democratic institutions and civil society in Hong Kong. Our assessment is one of concern about that unravelling.

Senator PATRICK: Have you made any representations to the Chinese government about the situation in Hong Kong and, if so, what have the responses been around these new national security laws? Has the Australian government made representations?

Mr Hayhurst : We have, many times.

Senator PATRICK: And the response?

Mr Hayhurst : Without wishing to go into the detail of government-to-government engagement, China's position in public, which is consistent with the responses we've received, is that, in their view this is not a matter in which we have any standing.

Senator PATRICK: In relation to the text of the warning, 'You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds,' to what extent does the department consider Australian citizens in Hong Kong to be at risk of arbitrary detention in Hong Kong? I am really trying to fill that out a little.

Mr Hayhurst : The travel advice for Hong Kong has language reflecting our judgement about the risk there, including as a result of the introduction of the national security law. I don't have the text in front of me. I don't think it uses quite the terms you did, but it's got some clear advice about that.

Senator PATRICK: 'You could break the law without intending to.' 'You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined national security grounds.' It goes to the maximum penalty, 'Under the law you could be deported or face possible transfer to mainland China for prosecution under mainland law.' It comes down to the key word 'may'—'you may be at increased risk'. I'm trying to quantify that a little; what that means?

Mr Hayhurst : You've just read part of that which I now have in front of me. The advice, as set out, is there's a new law. It could be interpreted broadly. 'You could break it without intending to.' 'You may be at increased risk of detention on vaguely defined security grounds', and then 'Under the law you could be deported or face possible transfer.' I think that's clear. What we're saying is that law gives the authorities scope to define much more broadly national security offences, so the risks for travellers have changed and that's what that advice seeks to capture.

Senator PATRICK: Have any Australians been arrested or detained under the national security laws?

Mr Hayhurst : I don't think so—

Ms Campbell : We can ask our consular.

Mr Hayhurst : I will check with consular, but I think the answer is no. We will check and I will come right back if that's not right.

Senator PATRICK: Is DFAT confident that the Australian Consulate-General in Hong Kong would be immediately informed in the event of the arrest of an Australian citizen under the new national security laws?

Mr Hayhurst : Our expectation would be that the authorities in Hong Kong, like authorities elsewhere, should fulfil their obligations to advise us if an Australian citizen was detained.

Senator PATRICK: I think that is a nuanced answer talking about what your expectation is, whereas I'm going to confidence.

Mr Hayhurst : That's right. As we're saying, we don't know; we don't have experience of any Australian being implicated in Hong Kong under this law at this point.

Senator PATRICK: Do you have knowledge from other jurisdictions that would inform you in relation to this?

Mr Hayhurst : It's possible; it's quite likely. I suspect the Consulate-General has discussed this with a range of partners. Let me find out and come back to you.

M s Lawson : I think we're aware of one case of a detention, but that person was subsequently released, so we're not aware—as far as I'm aware—of any arrests at this stage or anyone being held.

Senator PATRICK: How long was that person detained for?

Ms Lawson : It was not that long. It was a few days. I'll need to come back to you to clarify the details.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. In those circumstances, was the Australian consulate notified?

Ms Lawson : I'll need to come back on the details.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. I've basically finished my questions, but did you take on notice a question in relation to the trade minister and interaction with his counterpart?

Ms Lawson : Yes. The current minister has not met his counterpart. As you know, Minister Tehan started in January this year. The last previous meeting was in August 2019, between Minister Birmingham and Chinese Minister Zhong Shan.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Rice is here. You have the call.

Senator RICE: I'm going to whip through a whole range of things in the next 30 minutes, starting with Palestine. Minister, last week the Israeli defence ministry designated six prominent human rights organisations in the occupied West Bank as terrorist organisations, effectively outlawing their activities. Was the Australian government or DFAT made aware of these designations before they occurred?

Senator Payne: Not that I'm aware of.

Senator RICE: UN human rights experts today said when this news broke:

This designation is a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere.

…   …   …

The human rights experts called upon the international community to use its full range of political and diplomatic tools to request that Israel review and reverse this decision.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said:

How the international community responds will be a true test of its resolve to protect human rights defenders.

Will the Australian government denounce this dangerous attack against Palestinian human rights defenders?

Senator Payne: Our post in Tel Aviv has made inquiries to the Israeli Ministry of Defence, which made the designation, seeking further information. We have been told that we will be provided with further details in due course, but that has not been the case so far. The Australian Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism has reinforced these points to the Israeli embassy this week, and I am seeking further information to determine the purpose of the designations and what the historical scope might be from the Israeli authorities.

Senator RICE: Until you receive that further information, you're not willing to make any statements?

Senator Payne: I want to know—and I don't think it's unreasonable to seek this information—what the basis of the designation is and to understand the steps that the Israeli authorities have taken. Then I will be in a position to inform actions going forward.

Senator RICE: Given the UN and human rights experts all around the world have made those comments that I just quoted to you, are you disturbed? Do you feel that it will be appropriate for Australia to call on Israel to revoke these designations?

Senator Payne: I've told you what my position is. I want to understand and get advice from the Israeli authorities, or get information from the Israeli authorities, in relation to the designations and to have a greater awareness of the purpose for which they have been made and the reasons for which they have been made. Then, if appropriate, the Australian government will make a comment.

Senator RICE: This happened in the same week that the Israeli authorities authorised the building of 1,300 new dwellings in occupied Palestine. Again, the UN has said that, internationally, people need to remind Israel that any settlements in the occupied areas are illegal under international law and are a serious obstacle to peace. What's the Australian government saying to the Israeli government about the expansion of settlements?

Senator Payne: We've made our points in relation to settlements consistently, and you and I have discussed that here before, but if officials have anything further to add I'll ask them to do so. Mr Innes-Brown.

Mr Innes-Brown : As you know and mentioned, Senator, there was an announcement. We have already raised our concerns with the Israeli authorities about that announcement, in line with our longstanding concern about settlement activity and other unilateral actions that threaten the prospects for peace. So we have already taken it up. Our charge d'affaires in Tel Aviv will take it up again in a meeting today, I understand.

Senator RICE: Minister, have you raised the issue with your counterpart after this last announcement of the 1,300 new settlements?

Senator Payne: We have not spoken in that time, no.

Senator RICE: Do you intend to?

Senator Payne: We're not scheduled for a call currently, but I would definitely raise it in any call that we had.

Senator RICE: When might that be?

Senator Payne: Senator, I—

Senator RICE: Doesn't seem like it's a high priority.

Senator Payne: Senator, I think that's completely unfair, actually, given that the public record clearly shows that I engage regularly—in fact, very regularly—with many of my counterparts, as many as possible. I'm sure that that call will be held in due course.

Senator RICE: I want to go back to the issue of the Global Methane Pledge, which I ran out of time for in my previous block of questions. What discussions has the government, either you, Minister, or the department, had with the US and the EU on signing up to the pledge—or not signing up, as it seems we're not signing up?

Senator Payne: I'll ask the officials to respond.

Ms Klugman : The Global Methane Pledge was an initiative launched by the United States alongside the European Union. It came to our notice in August 2021, this year, when Australia was invited to join that initiative to reduce methane emissions under the banner of the Global Methane Pledge. That was at the time when the United States was finalising preparations for a high-level meeting, a major economies' meeting, on climate change matters that took place in September in the United States.

Senator RICE: And what was our response at that stage, in August, when we were formally approached?

Ms Klugman : We were approached just a few short days before the actual event. We thanked the United States for the approach, we collected the information on the initiative that they then made available and we told them that we would consider it.

Senator RICE: Okay. Was there anything more specific that Australia was requested to do other than just signing up to it?

Ms Klugman : No.

Senator RICE: Since that period, since August, a decision has been made not to sign the pledge. How has that been conveyed to the EU and the US, and what has the response been?

Ms Klugman : I'm not sure of communication with the EU and the US; I can take that on notice. The lead agency for this is DISER, the Department of Industry, Science and Emissions Reduction. An element of the department of agriculture is also engaged in those discussions.

Senator RICE: Who made the decision not to sign up? If those departments were the ones involved in those discussions—

Ms Klugman : That was a decision of the government, and you saw some comments this morning from Minister Taylor.

Senator RICE: Minister, do you know whether either government ministers or departments have been lobbied by any gas companies in relation to signing up to the methane pledge?

Senator Payne: No, I have no awareness of that. And I certainly have not been.

Senator RICE: Thank you. It's extremely disappointing. I want to move on to Syria. Since the start of the year we've had 62 children, approximately two every week, die in the al-Hawl refugee camp in Syria. Save the Children has warned that it's only a matter of time before an Australian child is killed—as we know, we have children and their mothers still living in dire conditions in these camps. What reason does the government have still for not repatriating these women and children, abandoning them in conditions that UN experts say amount to torture?

Mr Newnham : I'm conscious that Ambassador Noble will also join me at the table. I have a couple of points in response. The Australian government is deeply concerned about the situation in the north-eastern Syrian camps. We note the conditions in al-Hawl are reportedly much worse than in al-Roj. A lower number of residents are in the al-Roj camp. There are estimates—and I would just stress they are estimates, given the paucity of good data here—of approximately 65 Australians and former Australians in Syria and Iraq who fought with or are associated with Islamist extremist groups. Most are in camps, but their numbers are very unclear, and Kurdish authorities are not able to be as clear with us. What I can say is we make ongoing inquiries regarding the conditions in the camps. That's done through humanitarian partners, including our ambassador in Lebanon, who met with the ICRC regional director on 15 October; on 26 August, the UNFPA, the population fund, met with our embassy and provided a briefing on improving reproductive health and gender-based violence issues as well; and, on 10 June, we met with the UN resident humanitarian coordinator.

We also engage with Syrian Kurdish authorities, and that has been on a series of dates—late September, with our post in Lebanon, and again in late August as well. I would just say, as well, our contact spreads right through the NGO community, including with Save the Children and with Australian relatives here in Australia, seeking to bring as much information to bear on the conditions and the landscape faced by those in these camps. I would just note the funding that we provide to humanitarian partners too. Here, I'm particularly thinking of the UNFPA and the World Health Organization, which both receive $2 million per year from the Australian government, as in the last reporting period. I'll stop there.

Senator RICE: What are the remaining barriers? Why haven't these children and their mothers been repatriated by now? What are the barriers, given that it seems that it's only a matter of time before we have Australian children who die?

Mr Newnham : I will ask Mr Noble to come in here, but I might just commence by saying we very much look at this as a case-by-case approach to repatriations. We consider the security and the humanitarian situation, but they are not the only determinants. The government has been clear about not putting the lives of Australian officials at risk to extract people from these dangerous situations. Facilitating the movement out of the camps continues to pose an unacceptable danger to Australian officials. I'll just check if Mr Noble would like to add to this.

Mr Noble : I would say that the people in the camps—the women and children—are persons of counterterrorism interest, which means that it's a whole-of-government responsibility to consider what happens to them. We are contributing to that process, and it's coordinated by the home affairs department. I heard Secretary Pezzullo's evidence on Monday. I'd just reinforce what he said, which is that we're a key inputter to that whole-of-government look at the risks around repatriation. The government's policy, to date, has been to prioritise the protection of Australia and the Australian community.

Senator RICE: You say they're of counterterrorism interest. They're going to be of more counterterrorism interest if they are there for longer and then they do come home, aren't they?

Mr Noble : What we do is lay out all the risks for consideration by government. One of them is the long-term risk of radicalisation and the impact to Australia and offshore in the longer term. So you're right; that is a risk.

Senator RICE: How do you account for the risk of these children dying in these camps?

Mr Noble : We're really concerned about what's going on in the camps. It is one of the key risks that's considered: what's the welfare and humanitarian interests of the Australians who are in the camp?

Senator RICE: I just find it devastating. What's the department's understanding of the legal basis for the ongoing detention of Australian citizens by the Syrian democratic forces?

Mr Noble : I'll be specific, because I am not a lawyer. Essentially, the camps are a product of armed conflict between ISIS and the global coalition; people were put into the camps as a result of that. The technical answer is that it takes a case-by-case assessment of each individual person to determine the legality of it. The Australian government is firmly against arbitrary detention.

S enator RICE: In response to a letter from UN experts on 23 August, the Australian government stated that the Kurdish authorities were only allowing the repatriation of foreign children—specifically, unaccompanied minors—which I believe is incorrect. Can I confirm that you'll be correcting that information?

Mr Noble : Yes, that's correct. At the time that the Australian response was passed through Geneva, our understanding was that Syrian Kurdish authorities were not supporting repatriation. That's no longer true. The Syrian Kurdish authorities are—

Senator RICE: The Kurdish authorities are supporting repatriation. We know that other countries have gotten their children out.

Mr Noble : That is correct.

Senator RICE: Yet Australia isn't at the moment.

Mr Noble : That is correct. As the deputy secretary said, we take a case-by-case approach, and that's how the government approaches that issue.

Senator RICE: On a case-by-case basis, and you have children suffering in conditions that amount to torture. That's the case by case. I'll move on. I want to go now to West Papua. What's the response of the Australian government to recent revelations regarding the 1998 Biak massacre and the handling of evidence and intelligence? In September this year, there was an unredacted report which revealed that an Australian intelligence officer had provided the government with compelling evidence just 11 days after the killings that Indonesia almost certainly used excessive force against pro-independence demonstrators. They were also handed photo evidence, which has since been destroyed.

Mr Jadwat : In relation to the 1998 Biak killings, Australia regularly engages the government of Indonesia at all levels about the situation in Papua. In relation to the specific issue of Biak, we have not specifically raised it, but those concerns were raised in 1998 by the then foreign minister, Alexander Downer. But throughout our discussions with the Indonesian government on Papua, in the broad, all of these issues are raised in terms of our ongoing concern about the violence in Papua.

Senator RICE: Since that information has come to light—that the Australian government had that intelligence, that Indonesia almost certainly used excessive force and that the photo evidence, which has been destroyed, has now come to light—has that been raised with the Indonesian government in the context of encouraging Indonesia to address historical human rights abuses, let alone not continue undertaking them?

Mr Jadwat : As I said, I'm not aware of specific representations that have been made about the 1998 Biak killings, but I am aware that the embassy and our mission in Jakarta discuss all of these issues on a regular basis, in terms of Papua and the situation in Papua, with the Indonesian authorities.

Senator RICE: Can I encourage you? You say 'regularly discuss'. Is there active encouragement of the Indonesian government to address these historical human rights abuses, let alone those that are ongoing, which are very clearly documented.

Mr Jadwat : It's an ongoing dialogue that our mission in Jakarta has with Indonesian authorities on Papua.

Senator RICE: What's the government's position on a potential visit by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to Papua?

Mr Jadwat : In relation to that, we would support it. We've consistently encouraged the Indonesian government to allow access to credible international observers, including the UN. We understand that that visit is still to take place, but, as I said, we've encouraged the Indonesian government to work with the UN on that.

Senator RICE: Again, what are we doing to encourage, support, facilitate, enable that visit to occur?

Mr Jadwat : We've encouraged the parties to finalise the timing and the arrangements.

Senator RICE: But there's nothing that's planned yet. Indonesia hasn't accepted that as yet, have they?

Mr Jadwat : The visit is ultimately a matter for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Indonesian government, but we're certainly encouraging it to happen.

Senator Payne: I discussed that myself with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet Jeria.

Senator RICE: That's good to hear. What is the Australian government raising with the Indonesian government currently, in terms of concerns abouts the methods being used by Indonesian security forces which have resulted in the deaths of civilians, property damage, increasing displacement and the suffering of civilians who have been caught up in conflict?

Mr Jadwat : The embassy in Jakarta continues to monitor the situation closely and we remain in contact with a large network of interlocutors, both within the Indonesian government and outside. As I said, we have ongoing dialogue with them. We have expressed concern, including most recently, about some of the violence that has happened during the last few days in Papua.

Senator RICE: Have you said anything publicly?

Mr Jadwat : I'm not aware of any public statements by the embassy.

Senator RICE: Do you think it would be appropriate to make public statements on this in the interests of being a critical friend to Indonesia? Obviously it's an extremely important relationship, and it's in Australia's interests as well as Indonesia's interests not to be having these ongoing human rights abuses.

Mr Jadwat : There is ongoing dialogue with the Indonesians. We make representations, and sometimes those representations are better made in private.

Senator RICE: It doesn't seem to be getting very far; that's the problem. Has the Australian government sought ways of providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people who are fleeing violence from the Indonesian government?

Mr Jadwat : In relation to specific aid programs in Papua, we do have aid programs that assist the Papuan provinces. Whether it relates to displaced people, I'd have to take that on notice and get back to you, but we certainly have an extensive program of development assistance that's provided to the Papuan provinces.

Senator RICE: I'm actually talking about helping people who are fleeing the violence.

Mr Jadwat : I'd have to check with our team and get back to you on that.

Senator RICE: I know that I'm rapidly running through my timeslot, so I now want to move on to Myanmar. Minister, I was glad to see that Australia signed on to the joint statement with the US, EU and the others in support of the ASEAN special envoy. Given that we're aligned with the US on that aspect, why aren't we also taking the steps that the US has taken in relation to targeted sanctions?

Senator Payne: Australia generated that joint statement, if it's the one I think that you're speaking about, and you and I and colleagues here have discussed the sanctions issues before, as have officials at the table. We have maintained our view on sanctions is that imposing sanctions at this time would not currently further our interests in terms of our advocacy on the ASEAN led solution for the critical situation in Myanmar. We have been focused on supporting ASEAN efforts and providing ASEAN with the support it needs to de-escalate the situation. We are consulting closely with our regional and international partners on this issue, including me directly with ASEAN foreign ministers in every conversation I have with them. I do respect, obviously, the decisions of other partners who have determined that imposing further sanctions is the appropriate measure for them. From our perspective, it is not currently a step we are intending to take, but we keep this under review. I also discuss it with members of the parliament regularly, including, obviously, yourself, Senator Smith and others who raise this matter.

Senator RICE: In terms of keeping it under review, if the junta continues to ignore ASEAN's five-point consensus, would you think that it would then be appropriate to take that proactive step of imposing sanctions?

Senator Payne: All of those factors are part of our consideration. The five-point consensus calls for a number of important steps, including the reduction—in fact, the cessation—of violence and the enabling of the special envoy to visit Myanmar. This is a matter I have discussed with both the special envoy himself, Dato Erywan, the second foreign minister in Brunei, on many occasions and with multiple counterparts. What you will have seen in recent times—I stand to be corrected by Mr Jadwat—are some very clear statements from leaders in ASEAN themselves about their concerns at the delay. A number of countries have raised those issues and it is being taken very seriously within ASEAN.

Senator RICE: I have a number of questions that I'll put on notice. One of them was: have you or your office now met with members of the National Unity Government?

Senator Payne: I'll ask Mr Jadwat to speak to that.

Mr Jadwat : Absolutely. I have met with the representatives of the National Unity Government on at least three occasions, and members of the Myanmar Taskforce, who sit in my division, have also met with them on a number of occasions.

Senator RICE: I want to move on to Cambodia. Has the Australian government issued any public statements condemning the politically motivated trial in absentia of former Victorian MP Mr Hong Lim, and will the Australian government urge the Cambodian government to drop the charges?

Mr Jadwat : In relation specifically to Hong Lim, I'm not aware of any public statements, but we're very happy to note that Mr Hong Lim was acquitted in Phnom Penh on 26 October.

Senator RICE: Oh, was he? It's very good news! I hadn't caught up with that news.

Mr Jadwat : We've been making consistent representations, including the minister in her last phone call with the Cambodian minister for foreign affairs.

Senator RICE: It's very good news. What actions are we practically taking to support democracy, including advocating to allow the opposition—including the Cambodian National Rescue Party—to have restrictions removed?

Mr Jadwat : Our policy on human rights in Cambodia is multifaceted. We, through our aid program, are addressing significant human rights concerns in Cambodia. We're providing assistance for Cambodian think tanks, a direct aid program to the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. We've got programs to support collaborative government and civil society activities. We've got longstanding support to the Khmer Rouge tribunal. We've provided grants to the Cambodian Center for Independent Media and the Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association—so across the board.

Senator RICE: Perhaps, if you take the detail on notice. Are you concerned, however, about our aid and scholarships actually being used by the Hun Sen regime to prop up his power, and what steps are we taking to ensure that our aid is not being diverted by Hun Sen's regime?

Mr Jadwat : We take this very seriously and we make sure that no aid goes through anything that would seem inappropriate in terms of the regime, but can I take it on notice in terms of the scholarship angle. But my understanding is that our aid program is very targeted. We make sure that it doesn't fall into the hands of the wrong people.

Senator RICE: If you could take that on notice, and specifically the case of the scholarships, because I know there is deep concern in the community that those scholarships are being used to prop up the regime. I have a couple minutes left. I now want to move to Tigre. Minister, myself and others have heard regularly from community members who are devastated about what's happening in Ethiopia. Have you met with them to hear their concerns?

Senator Payne: My staff, I believe, have met with them and had a number of meetings in the United States, particularly in New York, with senior officials in relation to these matters.

Senator RICE: I've got a few more questions, and I'm running out of time.

Senator Payne: Can I say, Senator, I am about to announce today a further $3 million in humanitarian funding for the ICRC in Ethiopia.

CHAIR: You heard it here first!

Senator RICE: Will you personally commit to meeting with the Ethiopian community members who are so distressed about what's going on?

Senator Payne: We can make arrangements; yes.

Senator RICE: Great. Finally, to India. When you visited New Delhi in September, did you raise concerns about the escalating crackdown on activists, journalists and peaceful protesters in India?

Senator Payne: As you know, I don't speak in relation to my bilateral conversations with counterparts, but we have raised human rights matters in our conversations previously; yes.

Senator RICE: So when you met in September those human rights issues were on the agenda—

Senator Payne: I honestly do not recall whether they were raised in that conversation, but they are raised regularly. And I can check the record, so I will do that.

Senator RICE: in particular, the appalling human rights, the extrajudicial killings and the disappearances in Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir? What advocacy have we taken in raising our concerns on those issues, particularly in the context of being Kashmir Black Day yesterday?

Mr Cowan : As the minister said, we do regularly raise human rights issues with India. We make clear that Australia values diversity and inclusion. I should note that India's constitution of course upholds the rights of all its citizens, including freedom of religion.

Senator RICE: Well, in theory.

Mr Cowan : In the case of Kashmir, we have raised the issue of Kashmir some 20 times since 2019. The representations and the discussions we've made focus on the importance of open political systems and accepted rules, norms and process. We've made representations as recently as the week of 18 October.

Senator RICE: Yes, quite rightly, because those accepted norms are clearly not being upheld, are they? Is the Australian government happy to say on the record that the killings, the disappearances, the shutting down of the internet and the attacks on journalists are extremely distressing?

Mr Cowan : We are pleased that some things have improved in Kashmir. As I think you will know, some of the restrictions that were implemented in the Kashmir Valley in 2019 have been eased. For instance, 4G services were restored, internet was restored—

Senator RICE: There are criminal charges being brought against medical students for supporting the Pakistan win over India in the recent T20 cup. There are criminal charges being issued against them. It just goes to the level of control that India wants to have over occupied Kashmir and Jammu.

Mr Cowan : Senator, I think—

Senator Payne: I was just going to say—and I'll go back to Mr Cowan, Senator—that we have consistently said that we believe the Kashmir dispute is a bilateral matter for India and Pakistan to resolve peacefully. But, as Mr Cowan indicated, we have raised matters relating to this regularly with India, at various levels, including focusing on the importance of open political systems and the importance of internationally accepted rules and norms and due process. The Indian government understands that we strongly support the democratic right to freedom of expression and to peaceful protests and our expectations in relation to that.

Senator RICE: We're signing trade agreements. We've recently announced that we're strengthening cyber cooperation with India. Surely, our concerns about what is going on in India and in Jammu and Kashmir should impact upon our willingness to be engaging, particularly with the digital cooperation, which can impact on digital surveillance and on the Indian government's new information technology rules, which will weaken encryption and undermine privacy and freedom of expression.

Senator Payne: This is a very important relationship for Australia—with India. We are both sovereign nations. We are both committed democracies, and our shared interests, frankly, are under unprecedented pressure, including from COVID-19. We are very committed to working together, and with all countries in the region, to determine a road to recovery in a way that helps all countries to reinforce their sovereignty and resilience. I have said to you that we have raised issues of concern in the past, and we will continue to do that.

Senator RICE: One last question, on Sudan. What steps has Australia taken following the coup in Sudan?

Senator Payne: Australia is represented in Sudan from our post in Cairo. The head of mission there has made public statements, which I have also reposted, expressing our concern regarding the military takeover. We strongly support the continuation of a democratic transition so that the people of Sudan can exercise their right to decide their country's future.

We are monitoring those developments and offering consular support to Australians in Sudan. I understand that there are a number of Australians registered there and that, unless Mr Innes-Brown advises me otherwise, we have not received requests for consular assistance. Mr Innes-Brown might like to refer to the meeting that DFAT held with the Sudanese ambassador.

Mr Innes-Brown : Yes, we spoke to the Sudanese ambassador here in Canberra about the situation, expressing our concern and making similar points to those that the minister just conveyed about underlining the importance of an immediate return to civilian government—the transition that's been happening since 2019. In relation to consular issues, yes, I can confirm that, as of yesterday, we had not received any requests for assistance from Australians that we know of in Sudan. There are about 42 people we have registered there.

Senator RICE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Paterson has the call.

Senator PATERSON: I have some questions about the OzAsia Festival in Adelaide. Are the relevant officials available?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure how much we'll be able to help you, but we'll see what we can do. It's obviously not a festival we run.

Senator PATERSON: No, but the festival does appear, at least based on its website, to receive Australian government funding in two respects—from the department of infrastructure and communications, which I appreciate is not DFAT's responsibility, but also from the Australia-China foundation, which I believe does fall under DFAT.

Senator Payne: That's correct.

Senator PATERSON: Firstly, is the department aware of the media reporting about the festival in the last couple of days or in the last week or so?

Ms Lawson : Yes.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you. For everyone else's benefit, there was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday by Eryk Bagshaw and an article by SBS Cantonese—I think it was on Saturday—relating to a Hong Kong group and its attempt to participate in the Moon Lantern Trail aspect of the festival. Is the department aware of concerns on behalf of the Hong Kong Cultural Association of South Australia that it has been excluded from the festival on political grounds?

Ms Lawson : We're aware of that reporting, yes.

Senator PATERSON: What knowledge does the department have of the chronology of events and the concern that the Hong Kong Cultural Association of South Australia has?

Ms Lawson : You referenced some funding from the Australia-China Council. In fact, that's from the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, which has replaced the Australia-China Council. No, we didn't fund the activities in question. We have funded a couple of activities within that festival.

Senator Payne: The foundation has.

Ms Lawson : The National Foundation for Australia-China Relations has.

Senator Payne: To be clear, it’s the foundation, which has a grants program.

Ms Lawson : To explain the background and the processes that we have in place, we have very specific guidelines and due diligence around all of our grants. Even though we didn't fund the activity, we did provide funding to the festival for two separate activities. We have in place agreements with all of the recipients of our funding, whereby we oblige those recipients to ensure that their programs are not subject to third party influence. Just to be clear, we expect those recipients to do their due diligence. We have no information from the festival that this was, in fact, the case. They have told us that there were some items cancelled in the festival; they have told us that it's about COVID distancing and other measures. However, if there were any indication that items were cancelled further to third party influence, we would take that very seriously. We will, in fact, be undertaking some further discussions with the festival organisers just to be assured ourselves, because we do take that kind of thing very seriously.

Senator PATERSON: I would welcome that. I have to say that, personally, I don't find the festival's explanations, at least as they’ve been provided in Mr Bagshaw's article, to be in any way satisfactory. I think a very good indicator of the fact that we might not be able to rely on their assurances is that they've given multiple different reasons why this group could not attend. They did refer to COVID in some of their comments and communications. But they also allowed other workshops to proceed that were connected with mainland Chinese organisations rather than this Hong Kong organisation. I don't think COVID transmits differently based on your affiliation with a mainland or a Hong Kong entity. A spokesperson for the Sydney Morning Herald said, 'Activities with political or religious content are not scheduled’. That does appear to suggest that it was politics entering into it. In the SBS article, when the Hong Kong Cultural Association of South Australia sought to register, they were required to list the props they used and mentioned yellow umbrellas. They received a reply asking them to elaborate on what the purpose of the yellow umbrellas was. Then, in this screenshot provided to SBS, they informed the group: 'With regards to the yellow umbrellas, we found this online’—and they pointed to a Wikipedia article about the umbrella movement and its obvious political nature—'Unfortunately, we are unable to approve the use of the yellow umbrellas as props or decor. Thank you for your kind understanding'. It very clearly appears to be political.

Ms Lawson : As I said, we would take any such allegations very seriously. Such questions will need to be answered by the festival organisers themselves, but we intend to look into it a bit further because we would take that quite seriously.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you. I appreciate that.

Senator Payne: Let me be clear from the perspective of the government that any political interference or censorship in art and cultural events is unacceptable. I have encouraged the department to contact the organisers of the festival to express that view as well as to do the follow-up that Ms Lawson has referred to and, frankly, to seek assurances that interference and censorship would not be allowed. It's not a festival with which I'm familiar, historically, but the government's position is very clear.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you, Minister; I really welcome that.

CHAIR: If this occurred, what would the consequences be?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to speculate. I want to see the discussion occur first.

CHAIR: Alright. But, within the agreement, is there a capacity to seek the return of funding?

Senator Payne: Senator, the funding was directed to two activities, which have occurred and which have taken place. Our funding was not related to this activity at all, in any way. It was directed to two other activities in the festival.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you, Chair. I have two final issues on this. I note that, according to the website of the festival, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Sydney is also an executive partner and presumably a funding partner. That is effectively now a Chinese government entity since the passage of the national security law. In addition to that, it appears that the Confucius Institute at the University of Adelaide is also a partner and potentially a financial one. Would it be of concern to the government if foreign-government sourced funding was implicated in this apparent censorship?

Ms Lawson : Senator, as I said earlier, we have very strict requirements with our own funding agreements that there should not be third-party influence in those events and activities. We rely on those entities to do their due diligence, to make sure that all the funding is appropriate and that there is no undue influence.

Senator PATERSON: Because if that were able to be demonstrated it would be an issue of not just the curtailment of the free speech rights of Australians but also potentially foreign interference.

Ms Lawson : Senator, where it's a question of foreign interference, we would listen to the advice from the Department of Home Affairs.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you. Finally, I would say that, from my point of view—and I commend the government's consideration of this—if it can be demonstrated that there was any element of political censorship here and if it's not possible, as Senator Abetz says, to seek the return of previously granted funding, we should reconsider whether we ever fund a festival like this again.

Senator Payne: It's a competitive grant process, Senator. Applications have to be made for those grants, and they would always be assessed in the light of experience.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you, Minister.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Paterson. Senator Wong can unmask herself and—

Senator WONG: I used to like Zorro when I was a kid—it's a joke. It was a joke.

CHAIR: No, no. I am indicating that Senator Wong will take us to afternoon tea at 3.45, and then from four o'clock I'm hoping that the patient coalition senators might get an opportunity.

Senator WONG: I will try and whip through this if I am able to. I want to quickly finish off on climate. I won't re-traverse what I put in PM&C estimates around the reaction of other partners and other nations to what's regarded as a lack of ambition in our climate policy. I put various comments from the US, the EU, France, Italy and the UK to PM&C. I'm not going to reprise that, but I do have two things I want to follow up here. Have you been briefed on or are you aware of the article that appeared in the UK Telegraph, which quoted an Australian senior government source making very personally disparaging comments about the UK high commissioner here?

Senator Payne: I am aware of it, Senator.

Senator WONG: I'm assuming you were not one of the sources quoted.

Senator Payne: You assume correctly, Senator.

Senator WONG: Have you taken any action as a consequence of the comments made?

Senator Payne: In some ways it takes us back to the conversation we were having this morning about unsourced, unnamed commentary.

Senator WONG: Sure. But they're still damaging.

Senator Payne: I spoke to and saw the high commissioner earlier this week, and we discussed a range of issues. I think the high commissioner is a very robust professional.

Senator WONG: She is.

Senator Payne: Whilst I'm sure we would agree that this sort of commentary is not appropriate, nor terribly professional, nor helpful, we were certainly able to get on with business.

Senator WONG: Do you know who from the government said that the British high commissioner had 'repeatedly overstepped the mark on climate change by giving us public lectures', in addition to making some personal and, quite frankly, sexist remarks about her?

Senator Payne: No, Senator.

Senator WONG: And you condemn that?

Senator Payne: Yes. I think it's entirely inappropriate.

Senator WONG: Is there any truth to the assertion that the high commissioner has been isolated from the PMO?

Senator Payne: Not that I'm aware of, Senator.

Senator WONG: When was the last time the high commissioner met with the Prime Minister or his office?

Senator Payne: I don't know, Senator. I'll take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I was going to ask you this, but you just indicated you met with her—

Senator Payne: I saw her this week, yes.

Senator W ONG: Some of the most what some might say are pointed but others might say are heartfelt criticisms or concerns about Australia's lack of ambition in its climate policy have come from Pacific island neighbours. There are many quotes, from the Fijian PM, from the PIF—is he Sir Puna?

Senator Payne: No, Secretary General.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I couldn't remember the title—et cetera. Again, I won't go through them, because of time, but are you aware that former Prime Minister Turnbull has written a joint letter with former Prime Minister Rudd to Pacific Island leaders, saying that they shared the alarm and disappointment of Pacific heads of government at the suggestion—which is now confirmed—that Australia wouldn't table an increased target ahead of COP26?

Senator Payne: I'm aware of the article. As you discussed with officials earlier, the Prime Minister and Minister Taylor have made a very strong announcement in relation to Australia's plans for COP26 and what we will be taking to the COP, including, as I think you were discussing earlier with Mr Isbister, the ambassador, the projections in relation to our achievement in excess of our 26 to 28 per cent target for 2030. In that context, I've seen the article and heard of the article and I would note that it was made before any of these announcements.

Senator WONG: As Ms Klugman confirmed earlier, there's no change to your target. Would you agree that the decision by the government to not update its target is not consistent with the calls of our Pacific island neighbours?

Senator Payne: I think that there are a range of approaches being taken. But what I would say is that what the Pacific wants to see is countries achieving on emissions reduction, and that is explicitly what we are doing.

Senator WONG: That isn't just what they want to see. They are really clear about targets.

Sena tor Payne: I understand that, Senator, but they also want to see—

Senator WONG: You can use that spin for domestic politics—

Senator Payne: I understand that, Senator.

Senator WONG: but it is very clear that Pacific island nations are absolutely transparent about—

Senator Payne: Senator, you can describe it like that. But let me say that, when you can have a conversation that says that, although the target was 26 to 28 per cent, the projections indicate that our achievement will be more in the order of 30 to 35 per cent, that is in fact an outcome that is greeted positively.

Senator WONG: So you're saying it's welcome, because that's not consistent with public statements.

Senator Payne: I think the outcome of increasing emissions reduction over our target is greeted positively, Senator, yes.

Senator WONG: So the fact that we have been—

Senator Payne: There may be a difference of views about whether we lodged a different number or not, but the reality of the achievement is greeted positively as well.

Senator WONG: Well, we have fallen far short of what they have called for.

Senator Payne: There are different views, Senator.

Senator WONG: There was a clear call from the Pacific for us to increase our target. Do you agree with that?

Senator Payne: There are different views, Senator.

Senator WONG: There was a clear call from Pacific island nations for us to increase our target.

Senator Payne: And we have indicated—

Senator WONG: Yes—you agree with that?

Senator Payne: Senator, what I agree with is that we took a target to the 2019 election, which, as a result of the outcome of the election, was endorsed by the Australian people. We have been able to indicate—and, again, I stand to be corrected by officials—that, on the projections, we will be able to achieve a 30 to 35 per cent reduction, in excess of our commitment of 26 to 28 per cent. While there may be differences about what should be adopted and what should not be adopted, I do think an increased reduction is welcome.

Senator WONG: I think I'm going to miss my plane. I'm trying to be quick, but it's been a very long answer, Eric. I'm just saying. I didn't ask any of that, and we all know that—

Senator Payne: Yes, you did sort of.

Senator WONG: I didn't. I said: do you concede—

CHAIR: Alright. Ask your question again.

Senator WONG: Do you agree—can you at least show them that you've listened—

Senator Payne: I have, Senator.

Senator WONG: Do you agree that Pacific island nations have consistently called for Australia to lodge a higher interim target?

Senator Payne: I think there have been a range of calls from Pacific nations, yes.

Senator WONG: Amazing, thank you. And we haven't.

Senator Payne: Actually, what we have in our government is a target because you don't have a 2030 target.

Senator WONG: Let's not do this again! I had to play a game while I was watching the PM speak because it was so irritating. Can we not do it again?

Senator AYRES: Legislate it.

Senator WONG: Legislate it and—

Senator Payne: Senator Ayres, I must have missed what your 2030 target was.

Senator WONG: That's right, I must have missed that we're not in government.

Senator AYRES: I'm on the wrong side of the table.

Se nator WONG: Happy to swap with you and happy to tell you what it would be.

Senator Payne: Point well made, Senator Ayres. We're like family, aren't we, Tim?

Senator AYRES: Indeed.

Senator WONG: He's not like you.

Senator Payne: I think you've missed the point, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: I wasn't going to comment on that. How much money are we spending on the Pacific Step-up? A couple of billion, if you include the debt and loans: is that right? Ms Klugman probably knows off the top of her head.

Ms Klugman : Through the official development assistance program, we spend in excess of $1.4 billion a year on countries of the Pacific.

Senator WONG: Plus there's access to it.

Ms Klugman : That's a subset of what you'd call the Pacific Step-up, which as you know—

Senator WONG: We're putting a lot of taxpayers' money in the Pacific Step-up, and it's the right thing to do. But at the same time we're engaging in a climate policy which clearly diminishes our standing in the region.

Senator Payne: That is a statement.

Senator WONG: Yes, it is.

Senator Payne: And it's something with which I disagree.

Senator WONG: Do you just not listen to them?

Senator Payne: I think your statement is completely unrepresentative of the approach that I take and that the government takes.

Senator WONG: That means you just don't listen to them.

Senator Payne: I do engage and listen very regularly.

Senator WONG: In two languages as well?

Senator Payne: We discuss these issues very regularly only in two countries or two territories, I should say.

Senator WONG: Thank you very much, Ms Klugman. I'm going to turn now to the ag visa. First, I want to go through a question that's for you, Minister. There's a lot of history to the internal argument about an agricultural visa. We could go back a fair while; I'll start in 2018 with an article entitled 'Nats challenge to Scott Morrison: agriculture visa 'not dead''. The report stated:

… former deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, said the agriculture visa was still Nationals policy despite Mr Morrison and key Liberal cabinet ministers dismissing it because it would undermine preferential entry for Pacific workers and threaten key strategic relationships.

I assume you won't tell me if you're one of the key Liberal cabinet members referenced there.

Senator Payne: I'm not starting to talk about cabinet with you now, Senator, no

Senator WONG: Even if it's about good policy in the national interest. You were quoted extensively in another report published on 19 September 2018 entitled 'McCormack retreats on farm worker visa', which stated that the Liberals had forced the Nationals to back down on the ag visa because of concerns it undermines the SWP, the Seasonal Workers Program, and the Pacific Labour Scheme. The report featured an on the record comment from you where you insist that 'Pacific countries would always take precedence.' Do you recall making that comment?

Senator Payne: Broadly, Senator. I'm just looking for the media release.

Senator WONG: There was also a report in the Courier Mail at that time on 13 October 2018. It talked about the division between the Liberal Party and the Nationals on the ag visa, particularly in relation to foreign policy:

Tensions have boiled over between the Liberals and the Nationals over a need for an agriculture visa …

However, national security issues, including China's muscle in the Pacific and soft diplomacy with regional neighbours who like having the ability to work in Australia, have caused internal road blocks within the Coalition. It is understood Mr McCormack told his colleagues he would secure an agriculture visa in the secretive Coalition Agreement.

There is also a report in the Australian—I'm just giving you a bit of the history, which you don't have to agree with but I think is useful context about some of the policy and political issues. Mr Packham wrote a report on 24 September 2018 which spoke about a legitimate policy question on the effect of any agricultural visa on a critical aspect of Australian diplomacy and development assistance—that is, the labour programs, the Pacific Labour Scheme and the SWP:

The Deputy Prime Minister wanted to put his proposed special agricultural visa on the agenda for an August 14 meeting of cabinet's national security committee, but was forced to drop the plan after an outcry by then foreign minister Julie Bishop and her department.

It references Ms Adamson, who, at the SCNS meeting:

… argued the new visa class would undermine the existing Seasonal Workers Program for Pacific Islanders, alienating key strategic partners at a time when China was expanding its influence in the region.

The sidelining of the proposed visa came 10 days before the switch to Scott Morrison as Prime Minister and the signing of a new Coalition agreement.

I put to you—and I happen to agree with the policy concerns that are referenced—that, over a period of time, members of the Liberal Party and ministers, including Julie Bishop and yourself, pushed back on the introduction of an agricultural visa for very legitimate strategic reasons, including the importance of these Pacific labour programs, as part of Australia's engagement with the region. At any point over the period I've been quoting—so 2018-21—has DFAT's advice about the strategic risks associated with the agricultural visa changed?

Senator Payne: I think there's been a range of advice over that time. I've certainly been engaged in a number of these discussions. As the joint statement of 23 August this year indicates, one of the changes that has influenced recent policy is the change to the Working Holiday Maker program that was developed as part of the Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement. That statement clearly says this program of an Australian agriculture visa, which will be operated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, will build on the strong outcomes from the Pacific labour mobility programs, and it reinforces—a point to which you referred in a number of your remarks—that our:

… primary and growing method for meeting agricultural workforce shortages are the existing Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS), and the new visa program will build on these.

Senator WONG: Is your argument that the strategic risk associated with an agricultural visa is mitigated because the ag visa won't undermine the Pacific labour schemes? That has been the fundamental policy argument, which Julie Bishop won internally; I regret that you didn't! The key policy proposition has been: we want to protect the integrity and the primacy of the Pacific labour schemes, for all the reasons we understand. What is our relative position in the Pacific? One of our great strengths is our proximity and access to our labour market, and successive governments have understood that. As you know, if you go to the Pacific this is something that is raised. The policy argument has always been, in part: we don't want to have an ag visa that will undermine demand for the Pacific Labour Scheme because the Pacific Labour Scheme is really important to our standing in the Pacific. It's a position that's been taken by previous ministers. What's changed?

Senator Payne: A number of the factors I mentioned in my earlier remarks, including the changes from the Working Holiday Maker program as a result of the UK-Australia FTA.

Senator WONG: I'm happy to come to that.

Senator Payne: That's a workforce issue, obviously.

Senator WONG: That doesn't change the policy problem. I will come to the UK FTA. The policy problem that I've outlined—nothing you've said actually lessens that.

Senator Payne: The joint media statement, which includes myself and the Deputy Prime Minister, absolutely reinforces:

The Government's primary and growing method for meeting agricultural workforce shortages are the existing Seasonal Worker Programme (SWP) and Pacific Labour Scheme (PLS) ...

Senator WONG: Have you explained that to Minister Littleproud?

Sen ator Payne: Minister Littleproud is a member of the cabinet, and—

Senator WONG: So your argument, as to why the policy concerns to which I've alluded are allayed, is: actually, the ag visa won't have that many people?

Senator Payne: No, that's not my proposition.

Senator WONG: What is your proposition?

Senator Payne: My proposition is that, as this statement from 23 August clearly says, the primary and growing method for meeting agricultural workforce shortages is the Pacific schemes—which are now called PALM, Pacific Australia Labour Mobility, for the sake of this conversation. The ag visa is in addition to that.

Senator WONG: Minister Littleproud, in his release of 1 October, states:

"The Nationals used the recent UK free trade negotiations to not only secure better market access for Australian farmers but also as an opportunity to finally secure an Agricultural Visa," …

That's on the record.

There's then, subsequently, a Weekly Times article—I remember them from my time as water minister!—titled 'Australia-UK agriculture visa to be extended to ASEAN nations'. In that report, Mr Littleproud boasts that a special agricultural visa announced as part of the UK-Australia FTA would be extended to the 10 ASEAN nations 'under a deal struck by the Nationals'. The report describes how the Nationals insisted on the Liberals giving up on the ag visa as the price for their support for the free trade agreement. Did the National Party demand the agricultural visa as a price for their support of the UK FTA?

Senator Payne: The government has campaigned strongly in relation to the Australia-UK FTA right across the government. I have indicated that, in relation to the changes to the Working Holiday Maker program that are an aspect of the UK-Australia FTA, this ag visa has been part of those deliberations. We're very clear about how much we want to grow the agriculture sector. Our 2030 challenge is $100 billion for the size of the agriculture sector. While we have, as our primary round for meeting agricultural workforce shortages, the PALM scheme, consisting of the Seasonal Worker Program and the Pacific Labour Scheme, we are also adding the agricultural visa to that.

Senator WONG: My question was: did the National Party insist—

Senator Payne: No.

Senator WONG: Let me finish the question; you didn't answer it, so I want to put it again.

Senator Payne: I'll say 'no'!

Senator WONG: Did the National Party insist that you enable the introduction of an agriculture visa as their price for the FTA?

Senator Payne: No. This is a decision of the government.

Senator WONG: Julie Bishop opposes it, consistently you have previously opposed it and there is no policy change which lessens the geopolitical or strategic problem with it. It is another example of the National Party holding the government to ransom and you giving in to them. It's amazing! Whether it's climate—

Senator Payne: The evidence for that is completely to the contrary.

Senator WONG: That is not true. They are boasting publicly about the fact that they got what they wanted out of you. They made this the price of the UK FTA.

Senator Payne: Let me deal in facts, Senator, which will tell you how many workers arrived—

Senator WONG: Yes, I'm going to come to that.

Senator Payne: in Australia since the program was able to be restarted in 2020; that is almost 12½ thousand. We have over 55,000 Pacific workers in work-ready pools around the region, and over 26,000 of those are double vaccinated.

Senator WONG: So why do you need the ag visa?

Senator Payne: For two reasons—

Senator WONG: If you've got 55,000, why do you need the ag visa, then?

Senator Payne: Let me repeat them. If you have the ambition that we have, to increase the size of the Australian agriculture sector to $100 billion by 2030, then the need for workers is only going to grow. And that growth is impacted by the decision in relation to the Working Holiday Maker program in the UK-Australia free trade agreement, which is, by the way, a very important FTA with a G7 economy which we regard as a significant achievement and a significant enabler for Australia and UK trade. The evidence speaks for itself.

Senator WONG: I just want to be clear about what I understand to be features of the agriculture visa. First, there is no cap on the number of people who can be brought to Australia under the agriculture visa, because it is described by the minister as being entirely demand driven. Is that correct?

Senator Payne: The visa will initially have a capping mechanism so that we do have gradual scaling of the visa to test a range of issues—but welfare and compliance settings in particular—and all those settings, including capping numbers, will be regularly reviewed as we move forward.

Senator WONG: What's the current cap?

Senator Payne: I don't have those details in front of me.

Senator WONG: You've got two officials.

Mr McDonald : The program's still in its design phase at the moment.

Senator WONG: So it's capped but you can't tell what.

Mr McDonald : No—

Senator Payne: That's being determined, in terms of the—

Mr McDonald : Not yet.

Senator WONG: Yes, sorry. It is capped, but you can't tell me what it is.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Mr Littleproud has also spoken publicly about not only its extension to the 10 ASEAN nations but its extension beyond those. Is that correct—that there is an intention to extend that visa beyond ASEAN nations?

Senator Payne: We're initially working with a small number of countries, who will be invited to participate through bilateral agreements, and demand will determine whether we need additional countries over time. These are very early discussions.

Senator WONG: Mr Pezzullo said in Home Affairs estimates that this was demand driven. Does he know it's going to be capped?

Senator Payne: It can be both.

Senator WONG: I understand that. It's demand driven up to a cap. I get that. But does he know it's going to be capped?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Ms Heinecke : My understanding of what Mr Pezzullo was referring to is that it was to do with caps on visas. What we're discussing at the moment in the context of the design would be caps in the context of bilateral agreements which are still being negotiated as part of that design process with industry.

Senator WONG: Is it intended that there be, or do the regulations impose, any limit on the number of jobs or sectors within the broader agriculture and primary industries sectors that ag visa holders can work in?

Senator Payne: The media statement which was the announcement of the scheme refers to agriculture including meat processing, fisheries and forestry.

Senator WONG: So horticulture, dairy, wool?

Senator Payne: The breadth of agriculture.

Senator WONG: So any of those and beyond?

Ms Heinecke : We're in the process of the detailed design of those with industry and the department of agriculture, and, when the final design is settled, that will include a very detailed subset of industry codes that the visa applies to.

Senator WONG: Mr Littleproud also said in an interview on 27 October that, unlike the Pacific labour mobility scheme, the ag visa wasn't going to be limited to unskilled or low-skilled workers. It is open to 'skilled workers'. Is that the case?

Ms Heinecke : Yes, that's correct. Again, the numbers and how that will be determined will be done with industry and, as in other schemes, it will need to be market tested first.

Senator WONG: Will the National Party's public commitment that there will be fewer hoops—I think that was the way it was described—for employers be reflected in this visa?

Ms Heinecke : This is a sponsored visa, so we're currently looking at the Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Worker Program Guidelines in terms of minimum protections, and there will be a similar set of requirements for employers that join the scheme. In terms of who does what regarding movement of workers and other desirable outcomes from the agriculture visa, that's subject to a detailed design process with industry at the moment. But the intention is to have minimum standards for protection of workers.

Senator WONG: My question was: there have been public statements by members of the government that there will be fewer hoops for employers—is that the policy intention? What are you working to?

Ms Heineck e : There are two things happening in parallel. We're designing the ag visa and at the same time we're also looking at efficiencies a reduction of processes in the Pacific Labour Scheme. That's really to look at efficiencies between the programs, which has now been consolidated under the PALM scheme. The intention of both is to reduce hoops where there are steps that can be taken down but still protect workers. Protection of workers is still at the heart of the program.

Senator WONG: That will be a lot more questions on this. That's all I'm going to ask right now. I will quickly go to a few other issues. The first was Afghanistan and LEEs. Secretary, I think there were quite a lot of questions on notice that were provided this morning from the other hearing. The good news about that is it lessens the amount of questions I have now. It would have been nicer to get them yesterday, though, so I could read them.

Firstly, I have asked on a number of occasions and have been told by officers that this would be available: how many Australian visa holders remain in Afghanistan? You've given me Australian citizens and PRs registered with the department, which was 286 as at 11 October. I assume there is an update of that. Do you want to give me that? But I also want to know visa holders.

Ms Campbell : We'll start with the update.

Mr Cowan : Your question goes to DFAT, LEE visa holders who have been issued—

Senator WONG: No, rewind. Can you confirm first the number of Australian citizens and PRs still registered with the department as stranded in Afghanistan. You told me 286 on 11 October. I want to get the updated figure for that please.

Ms Campbell : We might get the consular people.

Mr Cowan : If we start with consular, I will let Ms Logan take the chair, if you want to know Australian PRs and—

Senator WONG: I want to know Australian citizens and PRs, and then I want to know visa holders. I was told that that could be given to me, and other countries have provided it.

Mr Newnham : I can give you the updated figures on Australians and PRs. The updated figures on Australians is 96 as at 22 October, and 106 permanent residents also as at 22 October, for a total of 202. As to the visa holder total, that is a figure for which we rely on the Department of Home Affairs. You may have seen that they took a series of questions on this during the course of the week and were unable to locate that exact figure.

Senator WONG: Why is no one in government prepared to be upfront on this?

Ms Logan : I can help a little bit.

Senator WONG: I'm happy to listen to you, but I don't have a lot of time. The opposition, since being briefed, has repeatedly asked: can you give us the number of visa holders? GAP legal services estimate 5,000 visa holders remain in Afghanistan. Are you seriously telling me no-one in the Australian government can give us at least an estimate?

Ms Logan : What I can say is that, as part of our consular cohort in Afghanistan, we look after 114 449 visa holders who are family members—

Senator WONG: This is not helpful. This is just an opportunity to read out what's in your brief. The direct question is visa holders, and I've been asking it for over a month, as have members of the media. The government has consistently refused to give it. Why?

Mr Newnham : I can only repeat this was a line of questioning taken by Home Affairs, and—

Senator WONG: I was given assurance in private briefings that this would be able to be provided, once people worked it out. And still it has not.

Mr Newnham : Not from us.

Ms Campbell : Not from us.

Senator WONG: Have you ever seen one?

Mr Newnham : No.

Senator WONG: Really?

Mr Newnham : A figure of visa holders total in Afghanistan—

Senator WONG: Or estimates of it?

Mr Newnham : I don't recall an estimate of it.

Senator WONG: How many applications for LEE certification has DFAT received in total?

Mr Cowan : The numbers I can give you are that over the life of the DFAT locally engaged employee program we have certified 134 individuals. Of those, those granted a visa are 104. Since the end of the evacuation phase, there have been a considerable number of further applications. I don't have the number to provide you today, but we can provide that later on.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr Cowan : What I can also say on numbers, Senator, doesn't go to those who are in Afghanistan, as Mr Newnham described, but we can say that over the life of the global program for locally engaged employees from all agencies—2,020 people were issued LES/LEE visas, and we know some nearly 3,000, as you know from Home Affairs evidence, have been issued 449 visas, many of them being LEE or LEE applicants. So some thousands of people have been brought to Australia under those programs.

Senator WONG: None of that, really, except for the first bit, dealt with my question. Of the 134, I think you said, how many were not certified?

Mr Cowan : Over the life of the program, 594 individuals have been refused certification.

Senator WONG: Sorry, what was the 134/104 figure you gave me?

Mr Cowan : There were 134 individuals over the life of the program certified.

Senator WONG: So the remainder are not certified?

Mr Cowan : 594 were refused. There's a subset, if you like, who ended up being granted a visa. They were 104 individuals, as of 8 October.

Senat or WONG: Okay. So it's two months since the operation ended, and the Australian government still cannot tell Australians how many Australian visa holders were left behind? Pretty impressive.

Mr Cowan : Senator, as I think Home Affairs described to you, they have numbers of visas issued but they do not know the location of those individuals. They only know people who have come to Australia. With people who have a visa, it's open to them to go to a number of places.

Senator Payne: As understand it—

Senator WONG: Two months after withdrawal, you're still telling people you can't tell anyone. That's all. Let's just move on. I think it's pretty clear. As at 2 September, 49 of 89 certified DFAT LEE remain offshore, but you are unable to advise how many of them remain in Afghanistan. So you're not able to tell me, of those we certified as locally engaged employees, how many of the remaining 40 are still in Kabul or Uruzgan or anywhere in Afghanistan? Is that right?

Mr Cowan : That is correct; we don't know their location.

Senator WONG: Does this include or exclude the Australian government security guards, about whom there's been so much media?

Mr Cowan : People who have visas to come to Australia, we know when they arrive in Australia, or at least Home Affairs knows that. When they have not come to Australia, to this point, we do not know their location.

Senator WONG: How many visas were granted to embassy security guards and to their family members? First, how many embassy guards applied for either LEE, humanitarian or 449s and how many were granted?

Senator Payne: I don't know if the numbers are broken down in that way. If they are, I will ask Mr Cowan to provide them. If they are not then we will provide you what we can on notice. One thing I would say in relation to the location of people—and I have been discussing this with, including parliamentary colleagues this week from across the parliament—is that people are still leaving Afghanistan in a number of ways. We don't necessarily know all of those ways or all of those people at the time. It is not until they either seek to come to Australia or tell us that they don't wish to come to Australia, that that can sometimes be reconciled.

Senator WONG: Minister, when did you become aware of the guards' LEE certification applications?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure specifically which specific people your question—

Senator WONG: Sorry, I apologise, I was going to give you an opportunity to answer the question but I'm so cynical that I just figured you were going to avoid it.

Mr Cowan : Thank you very much for that endorsement. Can I say something about—

Senator WONG: Oh no, please. If you can't answer the question, I'm trying to get through stuff.

Mr Cowan : I would like to explain that there were, of course, as you know, private security company contractors—

Senator WONG: Yes, I am about to come to that.

Mr Cowan : contracted to do a range of roles.

CHAIR: Let's await the question.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Minister, in the—

Mr Cowan : Sorry.

Senator WONG: He has asked you to await the question. I haven't asked a question about private security guards. I asked you—

Mr Cowan : I was just going to say that there were—

CHAIR: Mr Cowan is going to get his way.

Mr Cowan : I beg your pardon. I was going to say there were 160 private security company employees who applied for certification under the program and, of that number, 12 were certified after being assessed against the criteria.

Senator WO NG: Out of the 160, 12 were granted?

Mr Cowan : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Tell me, is this the cohort in part who provided security assistance services to the Australian embassy but on the outer ring as opposed to the inner ring?

Mr Cowan : There was a series of layers around the embassy that we had in Kabul, as you know. The inner layer, if I can put it that way—in other words, the pedestrian entry to the embassy—at those entrances, those doing guarding work were Australian and third-country security personnel, not Afghan national security companies.

Senator WONG: Could you please speed up?

Mr Cowan : Then there was the second layer further out, vehicular access, and then there was a third layer, which were checkpoints into the semi-secure zone.

Senator WONG: Afghan nationals on the third and outer layer who applied to us were not granted LEE certification. Is that correct?

Mr Cowan : What I would say is that when we looked at the applications, we applied them very specifically against the terms—

Senator WONG: Were they granted or not? Answer the question, please. I'm getting frustrated with the lengthy answers.

Mr Cowan : I can't answer it in a global sense, but what I can say is that the security contractor personnel had different roles. Those who had roles closely integrated with our mission, who could clearly be identified as being part of supporting our mission—

Senator WONG: There is this incredible amount of words, and we're talking about people's lives. Did you exclude some people because they were employed by a private contractor, not directly by the embassy?

Senator Payne: I stand to be corrected by Mr Cowan. I think the short answer is some people qualified in that capacity under the LEE program. Some people did not but they qualified for other humanitarian visas.

Senator WONG: What did you say, 12 out of 130? Was that right?

Mr Cowan : I said 12 out of 160.

Senator WONG: So 12 out of 160, and all these people were involved in providing security to the Australian embassy. Do you think the Taliban were making distinctions as to whether—

Mr Cowan : Senator—

Senator WONG: Let me finish the question.

Mr Cowan : I beg your pardon.

Senator WONG: Do you think the Taliban were making a distinction between inner and outer ring?

Senator Payne: Nobody thinks that.

Senator WONG: Then why did we apply such a legalistic definition to these people?

Senator Payne: Because we have a regulation to operate under and, in addition to the regulation, we have the availability of other humanitarian visas.

Senator WONG: How goes that moral obligation?

Senator Payne: We have a range of other humanitarian visas—

Senator WONG: How goes that moral obligation—

Senator Payne: which were available to those people, and we have brought as many of those people here as we could.

Senator WONG: Yes, 12 out of 160. Mr Jeffrey, in Defence yesterday, essentially described how Defence undertakes these LEE assessments. I have to say, my impression from that evidence and other evidence is that the approach taken by Defence is a more realistic approach. He said, 'We don't require an individual to have been employed directly by the ADF or the Defence department to be considered under the program.' He then went on to describe the criteria, saying 'A service has to be rendered. For example, it could be that the employee relationship is actually with another entity. For example, in Uruzgan Province, we had interpreters employed by Dutch forces but they essentially worked for Australian forces in many instances, so we would regard them as an employee—I will interpolate—for the purposes of the LEE program.' Why didn't you take that approach?

Mr Cowan : The approach that Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade took was under the instrument. Contractors were not ineligible for certification because they were contractors, just because they weren't directly employed. There isn't a policy against certifying contractors.

Senator WONG: Did you hear what I said? Did you hear my question? Mr Cowan, please answer my question. I

Mr Cowan : I did.

Senator WONG: No, you didn't answer my question. Why did you not take the same approach as Defence?

Mr Cowan : This year, of the 82 individuals whom the foreign minister has certified, 54 of them have been contractors. We have applied the test that's set out in the legislative instrument. We haven't excluded contractors because they're contractors. We have certified people who could effectively be regarded as employees of Australia, those who are identified with our mission and who worked with our mission in a sustained and substantial way. So many contractors this year have been certified by the foreign minister.

S enator WONG: How many of the guards did we leave behind?

Mr Cowan : As the foreign minister said, although those private security company contractors were not, some of them, certified under the LEE program, there were other avenues available to them.

Senator WONG: When it got into the media, there was a scramble to give them humanitarian visas. I saw those comments but I'm asking how many actually got here?

Mr Cowan : We do not know where people holding visas are.

Senator WONG: You would know if they'd come to Australia?

CHAIR: Do you have numbers as to who is here, who is believed to still be in Afghanistan, anyone in transit?

Mr Cowan : That's a matter for Home Affairs. Home Affairs can describe the number of people who have come under those visa categories.

Senator WONG: In mid-July from months before, there were public warnings from veterans' group, public warnings from the opposition, public warnings from former Prime Ministers, there was a discussion in May and June of the need to do more to expedite both LEE visas and get those who helped us to safety. The evidence from the questions on notice and today is that more than half of the DFAT LEE visa holders and their families did not get to Australia. You are not able to tell us how many visa holders were left behind. You've applied the much more strict and legalistic definition of LEE than Defence, which has resulted in people having to go for humanitarian visas with obviously a lower likelihood of transit. We have now reports, tragically, in the media of Afghans who assisted us being hunted down and executed. At the last estimates, Minister, you agreed that we had a moral obligation to help. Are you honestly telling us you don't believe you could have done any more?

Senator Payne: As I understand it—and I stand to be corrected—from 2013 until the embassy closed, as we have discussed, in 2021, there were 45 LEEs certified from DFAT and therefore from the foreign minister. From May to August of this year, I certified 63 across 10 submissions. I have also certified locally engaged employees as the Minister for Defence, as you would be aware. As the embassy was closing, DFAT, Defence and Home Affairs were reminding locally engaged employees of the mechanisms to make the applications for that program and for the special humanitarian visa program.

Senator WONG: Do you think you could have done any more?

Senator Payne: We expedited that, and we expedited the consideration of the applications as well. There will always be, in circumstances such as these and particularly given the way that the evacuation itself happened, further people that we would like and want to support, and we are continuing to do that.

Senator WONG: Chair, my colleagues have been very generous. Senators Ciccone and Sheldon want to ask some questions.

CHAIR: Alright. Who's kicking off?

Senator CICCONE: I might kick off, because I have only a few minutes until I have to go and catch a plane, so I'll be very quick and hopefully get some straight answers from the department. In relation to the announcement of the agriculture visa, what's been the feedback or correspondence or concerns that have been raised from any of our Pacific island nation neighbours?

Mr McDonald : We've obviously been consulting on the announcement within the region. Of course, as part of those discussions we're emphasising, as the minister said earlier, the primacy—sorry, I forgot my name tag.

Senator CICCONE: That's okay. What feedback have you received? Have you received any feedback from Pacific island nations about the agriculture visa?

Mr McDonald : The feedback has been around the primacy of the Pacific labour schemes that are in place—in other words, that it won't undermine those. As I said earlier—

Senator CICCONE: So which nations have written to the department expressing concerns?

Mr McDonald : I don't think I've had any correspondence, unless Ms Heinecke wants to respond.

Ms Heinecke : No, we haven't received any correspondence from Pacific countries. We have had consultations with the Pacific heads of mission here in Australia as well as at posts.

Senator CICCONE: Okay. So there is no correspondence, but have you had phone calls or emails?

Mr McDonald : We've had face-to-face meetings.

Ms Heinecke : We've had face-to-face meetings, and we've been—

Senator CICCONE: Okay. In those face-to-face meetings, have they expressed concerns about the framework of the ag visa?

Mr McDonald : I think what they've done is ask for information and the steps that we're going through to design the ag visa. So we're providing information, for example, as I said earlier, about the primacy of the Pacific Labour Scheme. The design will occur in consultation over the next few months. That's the clarification we're giving them, on what the parameters—

Senator CICCONE: Sure, but what are they asking? Have they expressed concerns?

Mr McDonald : I don't think it's concerned them. I think they want to be assured that the Pacific Labour Scheme is still a primary focus for our labour programs, which it is.

Senator CICCONE: Let me put it this way: have there been any concerns that the ag visa might undermine the PLS or the SWP?

Mr McDonald : That would be a concern that they would want to have addressed through the design of the visa.

Senator CICCONE: Can you give a commitment today that that won't be the case—that the government won't undermine those two programs?

Senator Payne: Absolutely. That is the commitment, and it's clear in the media statement of 23 August that our primary source for workers in this area is the PALM scheme, which provides workers from the Pacific. That is the clear communication that the Office of the Pacific and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific have been having with our counterparts, and I have reinforced it where I have had conversations myself.

Senator CICCONE: So, we're still expecting to receive the same number of workers from the Pacific year in, year out, as—

Senator Payne: We're committed to doubling it.

Senator CICCONE: You've committed to doubling it, but are we still expecting the numbers to be consistent?

Senator Payne: Yes. We have 55,000 workers in work-ready pools now; 26½ thousand of those, give or take, are double-vaccinated to enable them to come to Australia. We've had more than 12,000 stay here in Australia—I think 20,000 during the period of COVID—which has been an extraordinary undertaking. That work-ready pool, which is growing because of our commitment to double the numbers, is testament to the support we're continuing to receive in the Pacific and Timor-Leste.

Mr McDonald : And if I could add to that, at the moment we have 17,000 in Australia, which is our highest number. We've got 21 flights scheduled between now and the end of the year. We're averaging about 1,5000 a month coming into the country. And the doubling that the government announced in August—we've already had 3,000—

Senator CICCONE: How many workers are you expecting to arrive in Australia prior to the summer harvest?

Mr McDonald : It's about 1,500 a month that we're getting between now and—

Senator CICCONE: On the ag visa?

Mr McDonald : No—the ag visa—sorry—

Senator CICCONE: My question is: on the ag visa, how many workers will be arriving in Australia through the ag visa program by the end of the year in time for the summer harvest?

Ms Heinecke : We've committed to a phase 1 program, and that's looking at—

Senator CICCONE: Yes, I am aware of that, but—

Ms Heinecke : a small cohort. The numbers are yet to be determined, because we're still working with states and territories—

Senator Payne: And industry.

Ms Heinecke : and industry, to determine those, and also sending countries—as we said before, finalised arrangements haven't been made. Our advice to industry has been that for this harvest it's really important that people look at Pacific—the PALM scheme—for their harvest needs.

Senator CICCONE: On Monday night, Home Affairs indicated that they expected a couple of hundred by the end of the year for the summer harvest. Do you agree with the evidence that was given by the Department of Home Affairs?

Senator Payne: We're not going to speculate on those numbers. As Ms Heinecke has said, there are a number of processes—industry, partner countries being able to sign on, and quarantine requirements as well.

Senator CICCONE: So, we don't know. Minister, your department doesn't know how many expect to be here by the end of the year.

Senator Payne: I think Ms Heinecke has provided the evidence.

Ms Heinecke : We're still negotiating phase 1, which will be a small cohort.

Senator CICCONE: In terms of the negotiations, is it the case that Malaysia has indicated that they don't want to be part of the agriculture visa?

Ms Heinecke : Malaysia—and this was communicated in a media article—given that it has its own workforce shortages, at this point in time has not expressed interest.

Senator CICCONE: Have any other ASEAN nations expressed similar concerns or similar queries to those Malaysia has put to the Australian government?

Ms Heinecke : As I said before, we're negotiating with a small set of countries. There are a number of other South-East Asian nations that are net importers of labour that would not necessarily be able to supply workers in this sector.

Senator CICCONE: Which nations are they?

Ms Heinecke : Singapore, for example, is an importer of labour, and Brunei, as well as Malaysia, in the agriculture sector.

Senator CICCONE: Any other ASEAN nations?

Ms Heinecke : No, not that I'm aware of.

Senator CICCONE: Alright. Why has the visa been proposed for industries such as forestry, fisheries and meatworks, where there doesn't seem to have been any evidence to date of massive labour shortages? There's been a lot of talk about horticulture. But, with those other industries, why has the framework been designed in such a way that it includes those sectors?

Ms Heinecke : As I said before, the framework is still being designed. A really important feature will be looking at demand, but also supply. As you're aware, with borders shut, it's fundamentally changed the structure of the labour market here in Australia. As that settles, as borders open, we'll have a much better sense of where there is demand and supply. A really important point to make is that the agriculture sector, including meatworks, is a really important part of our Pacific schemes, and that has been growing exponentially. So, we expect that we will be meeting a lot of the demand, including for meatworks, through the Pacific schemes.

Senator CICCONE: My last question, before I hand over—through you, Chair—to Senator Sheldon—

CHAIR: Senator Molan has one quick question before we go to Senator Sheldon.

Senator CICCONE: What does the pathway to permanency look like under this program?

Ms Heinecke : That's under design. That part of the design process is being led by the Department of Home Affairs, which, as you know, leads on skilled visa pathways. That is expected to be finished and communicated early next year.

Senator CICCONE: For some clarity, though, when you say 'phase 1' or 'the trial', when do you expect that period to be finalised?

Ms Heinecke : Phase 1 runs from December this year until March 2022, with full implementation kicking off from April 22.

Senator CICCONE: Is that phase 2?

M s Heinecke : That's phase 2.

Senator CICCONE: How long will that go for?

Ms Heinecke : Initially for three years but there'll be a review after two years, which will look at the successes of the program and what settings need to be tweaked.

Senator CICCONE: So potentially we've got people on this visa, with the development still being progressed over the next couple of years?

Ms Heinecke : It's really important to highlight—

Mr McDonald : I think on this it's important to note that the two-phase approach is deliberate in terms of the implementation. We do this with a lot of our programs. So phase 1 is to ensure that we design the program in a way that it achieves what it needs to achieve. This is something that industry is supporting in terms of the phases. So, yes, subject to government decisions on it, phase 1 will start from late this year and will then flow through to March 2022. During that time we're doing more work on the longer-term program, and then that program is in place for the next three years.

Senator CICCONE: Thanks.

CHAIR: Senator Molan, you have the call.

Senator MOLAN: I've got a question for the secretary. I was quite disturbed by the line of questioning from Senator Wong in relation to Afghanistan. Through sheer happenstance I became involved in the evacuation of two families out of Afghanistan—a total of about 20 people. Both of those groups of two families have now arrived in Australia through the sheer brilliance of what we did there. As someone who's conducted evacuations from the Solomon Islands, Bali, Jakarta, parts of Afghanistan and parts of Iraq, I understand how difficult it is. Secretary, you must be extraordinarily proud of DFAT, not to mention Home Affairs and immigration—whom I found extraordinarily willing not to be wrapped around the axel on counting people but to give visas at a mere request—as well as to Defence. Is that true, Secretary? I think you should be very proud of your department.

Ms Campbell : We're very proud of the effort right across government. It was a joined up effort led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but it included Home Affairs, Defence, and other agencies, who all knuckled down and worked pretty long hours over extended periods in pretty difficult circumstances—the examples you gave of people going out of their way to get people visas and trying to get people through. We knew that this was going to be very challenging and we could see the footage on TV of how complex the matters were on the ground at the airport in trying to get people through in what were very challenging circumstances. And we knew that it was a limited time frame and that the situation was deteriorating every day with the security threats. So I do think that the Australian government system pulled together marvellously, working right across the system, to make sure that we could get out as many people as possible, and that continues.

I think the officers at the table gave advice earlier about getting people out through the air bridge between Kabul and Qatar. We know that there are people transiting on land borders. We are very careful in our recommendations about travel about the dangers of those routes. The government is continuing to work closely right across the Public Service, right across government, with ministers, about how we can get people to safety.

CHAIR: So it's still a work in progress?

Ms Campbell : Yes. It is in progress.

Senator VAN: Can I also offer my congratulations to your officers, as well as Minister Payne's office, who've been so helpful getting people out, and continue to be. Can I extend my thanks to you and your team as well as to Home Affairs. I did that on Monday night as well.

CHAIR: Senator Sheldon.

Senator SHELDON: I have a question to the minister. In light of the evidence that's been given that there's been no decision about either the PLS or SWP being protected, I just want to know why we're selling out Pacific workers and livelihoods to satisfy Barnaby Joyce.

Senator Payne: That's not the evidence that has been given to you or to the committee. The evidence that has been given to you and to the committee, which includes the clear statement made in the media statement which announced the agricultural visa, is that our primary source of workers for this work is the Pacific Labour Scheme. The primary, and growing, method is the Pacific Labour Scheme and the Seasonal Worker Program, which now—for the sake of this discussion—are the PALM scheme. So I absolutely reject the proposition you have put. We have announced a doubling of the number of participants in the PALM scheme, and in fact we are going to exceed that, because we have a work-ready pool of 55,000 or so workers in the Pacific currently. We have 26½ thousand of those, give or take, double vaccinated and ready to come to Australia. If I recall Ms Heinecke's evidence correctly, she indicated that there are 21 flights scheduled to bring those workers to Australia in the coming period.

The Head of the Office of the Pacific has briefed directly and personally, for example, the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, Mr Toole, who has said in his recent statements how much he wants to be able to restart this work. We have 12½ thousand workers who stayed here during COVID to continue their work and 17,000 here now who have—sorry, 12½ thousand have arrived since the borders closed. So there is a very significant and growing presence of Pacific workers and workers from Timor Leste in Australia, and that is going to continue as our primary source, as that statement says.

Senator SHELDON: Just turning to the meat industry, then. As you're aware, there is an expansion of the scheme to other industries that have previously not been covered by ag visa arrangements that the government has put forward. The meat industry is identified as an area with a large number of Pacific workers. You're now going to open them to competition from cheaper labour elsewhere—is that right?

Ms Heinecke : No, that's incorrect. It won't be cheaper. The same conditions will apply.

Senator SHELDON: So the same conditions are going to apply on the ag visa as apply to the PLS and the SWP?

Ms Heinecke : In terms of pay and conditions, yes. In terms of worker protections, yes. In terms of compliance activities, we're modelling it on the success of the PALM scheme, so yes.

Senator SHELDON: The success? It may be someone else that I need to ask this question of. I've got a report that was made by John Azarias on behalf of the then minister for agriculture, and I understand it was delivered by Minister Littleproud. In that report it says that there are 60,000 to 100,000 undocumented agricultural workers in Australia, and you're trying to tell me that this scheme is going to work.

Senator Payne: So what was your question, Senator?

Senator SHELDON: I'm asking if the fact that we have 60,000 to 100,000 undocumented agriculture workers in Australia demonstrates the monumental failure of the government to turn around and make sure they deal with all forms of exploitation and if now you're trying to say to me that you're coming up with a new scheme that will work.

Ms Heinecke : What I'd like to say is this is a sponsored visa. What it's seeking to do is to provide legal and protected workers to the agriculture sector but also other sectors. The Pacific scheme, importantly, was growing significantly before COVID. That has disrupted some markets, like tourism and aged care, but we are starting to get a lot of interest in the growth of those sectors as our borders open up and as tourism returns. We see aged care and the care sectors as a big growth area in these schemes. It's not just agriculture that we'll be bringing in workers for.

Senator SHE LDON: This goes to a whole-of-government question, Minister. I will read out this statement from an op-ed from Peter Lewis. I'm more than happy to give you a copy if you need it. The date of that is 26 October. It reads:

… radical expansion of these arrangements include horticulture, forestry, fisheries and meat processing.

… these are not jobs that Australian citizens have traditionally refused to carry out; indeed permanent jobs in these sectors were the backbone of many regional communities. Rather, these sectors are the victims of their own logic, in driving down wages through insecure contracts and labour hire, the jobs have become unpopular, hence requiring further injections of foreign labour.

Australia doesn't have a labour supply problem, it has a wages problem; driven by the weakening of minimum labour standards, the rise of casual and gig work and the ongoing supply of cheap entrants to the market.

This is not just what Mr Lewis has proposed in his op-ed but also something that has been shared deeply from across the community. Over 72 per cent of the country in this survey say—and I can go through different voting cohorts—that the temporary work visa should be used to cover genuine skills shortage not to provide cheap labour and that everyone who works in Australia should be entitled to the same pay and working conditions regardless of their visa status. The average pool is 67 per cent there. Isn't there a concern that this visa has come out without a proper policy position from the government?

Senator Payne: I don't know Mr Lewis. I understand he is a union representative.

Senator SHELDON: No, he is a journalist.

Senator Payne: Perhaps I have the wrong person, but I will ask Ms Heinecke to talk about the labour-market-testing aspects of the programs. I have not seen that op-ed and I will look at it.

Ms Heinecke : We are not able to bring in workers from overseas if it hasn't been market tested. It requires two adverts, including on JobSeeker, and we do not approve recruitment plans under the PALM scheme and that will be the same under the ag visa unless that market-testing process has taken place. We also have a strong compliance process in place that looks at pay slips, including in the meat sector. Where we find issues of noncompliance, they are rectified quickly. There's also an education process in place. So we're confident that the workers that we're employing are being paid to the labour standard that they're working under, depending on their job and the job category that they're working in.

Senator SHELDON: We're not going so well so far. This article from the Age on 31 August 2021 by Richard Baker and Wing Kuang, the heading of which is 'Lies, bribes and prostitutes: the recruitment of the Australian meat industry foreign workforce', goes into detail on the unscrupulous practices that are occurring in the meat industry right now. You're trying to tell me that we're going to be in a safe position by opening up the opportunities for more people to go into more industries?

Ms Heinecke : We in our program don't have a broader role of regulation of the meat sector writ large. But, for the workers we employ through this program, we have strong compliance in place, including audits. I can tell you that we've done eight random audits. As well, every six months we check pay slips from employers, including in the meatworks sector. We've had four referrals to the Fair Work Ombudsman, and there have been no findings on compliance with pay and conditions.

Senator SHELDON: The problem that we have generally across the market is substantial. We have 60,000 to 100,000 undocumented workers reported in a government study. Is that—

Ms Heinecke : The Department of Home Affairs has the key role in terms of compliance of illegal workers. I can't comment on the 60,000 to 100,000 number.

Senator SHELDON: I just want to go to the unrestricted number of participating countries. When Mr Littleproud began boasting about how he had the Prime Minister over a barrel on the ag visa, he was talking of extending it to 10 ASEAN countries. But now there is apparently no limit on the number of countries that will be eligible to participate in the ag visa. Is that correct?

Mr McDonald : As we said earlier, the ag visa is still in the design phase. We're still going through consultation. In this first phase, it is with a small number of ASEAN countries.

Senator SHELDON: But, as I heard you before, you weren't able to give us an undertaking that it would be, at least, the same arrangements as the PLS and SWP scheme.

Senator Payne: That's not correct, Senator.

Mr McDonald : We did. The primacy of the Pacific Labour Scheme remains clear, in the joint media release of the ministers and the terms and conditions, the evidence that Ms Heinecke has just given. The requirements we have for the Pacific Labour Scheme we'll be equally applying to the agriculture scheme.

Senator SHELDON: Is it the case that DFAT is still undertaking a review to reform the PLS and SWP?

Mr McDonald : We did undertake a review, and you would probably be aware that there were some changes announced a month or two ago that made a streamlining of the two programs to create the PALM—I forget the exact term for it—the new overarching scheme for seasonal workers and Pacific labour. There are efficiencies there for employers, things like movement of employees, and those efficiencies were announced about six weeks ago, I think, or that sort of period.

Senator Payne: Senator, one thing I would like to say, knowing your interest in this area, is that Ms Heinecke and her team have been doing an extensive range of consultations, both with industry-specific consultations and with employee organisations, and if there are others that you would suggest we speak with, I would be interested to hear those suggestions.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you very much for that offer. As I've expressed, my concern is that the schemes, largely, have not been properly administered—the administration of the scheme; I'm not saying the department. The department's oversight has not been sufficient to deal with the sorts of challenges that have been happening, with the numerous stories of people being ripped off on the PLS and SWP scheme. It seems that we're going to echo the same thing but magnify it. I think that's a fair observation, don't you?

Senator Payne: I don't agree with you. If there are further examples that you want to bring to my or the department's attention, in relation to those sorts of circumstances—some of which I have dealt with directly myself and others have been dealt with through officials and the usual system—I would be very happy to look at those. We work very hard—through the Pacific labour facility, in particular—to provide that support to workers around Australia and have done so continuously, particularly during COVID when it has been extremely difficult and very isolating. We have always taken seriously any complaints from workers or concerns raised. I dealt directly with some of those myself last year, in the midst of all of this, but I would be very happy for you to raise those and we will deal with them.

Sena tor SHELDON: Thank you, Minister.

Senator Payne: I have a very low tolerance for inappropriate treatment of these workers—in fact, it is a zero tolerance.

Senator SHELDON: You would appreciate that it's a very brave soul that comes forward and speaks about underpayments.

Senator Payne: Yes, I do.

Senator SHELDON: It's an exceptionally brave soul who speaks when they're on a visa, because they have the dual concern of being sacked and having to, potentially, leave the country.

Senator Payne : We have been able to address those in the past. Where there has been a payment issue we have had those redressed, of the payments made, but I'm genuinely saying to you I would want to have this conversation.

Senator SHELDON: The recommendations arising out of the Harvest Trail still haven't been implemented, have they?

Senator Payne: They don't fall into my specific area of portfolio responsibility, but I will follow up on those.

Mr McDonald : Senator, I think it's worth adding that your point on workers coming forward is really well made. We use our Pacific heads of mission here to keep them informed of the scheme. The audits we do of the payslips are, deliberately, to try and identify any of those issues you've just raised, without individuals having to come forward.

Senator SHELDON: How many audits do you do?

Mr McDonald : It's six-monthly, but Ms Heinecke can—

Ms Heinecke : We collect payslips every six months and do an audit on those.

Senator SHELDON: Who sends you the payslips?

Ms Heinecke : They come from the employers. We do an audit and go back and investigate with employees if we need to.

Senator SHELDON: 'If you need to'—if you see something—

Ms Heinecke : Well, if there are any anomalies in that—

Senator SHELDON: an employer's sent you is inaccurate, then you turn around and—

Ms Heinecke : or if there's not enough information, for example, on the pay slip, which has been the case in some situations, which we have then corrected.

Senator AYRES: But the employers are not the farm properties, are they? They are labour hire companies, largely, aren't they?

Ms Heinecke : It's a mix. We have a mix of labour hire and direct employers.

Senator SHELDON: So we're relying on evidence from employers. In some circumstances, you would logically say—because of the length and breadth and depth of some of the exploitation going on, including numerous reported cases involving the SWP and PLS—that we are relying on some people who are actually doing the stealing to make the decision about whether these workers are getting paid correctly or not and to give you the correct information. So asserting one thing from an employer is stealing, which means they can unfairly compete with decent employers, whether they be labour hire companies or on farms.

Ms Heinecke : No. We also look at workers' payslips and, where there are any reported cases, we have a 24/7 helpline which is staffed by Pacific Islanders. We work closely with liaison officers attached to high commissions here in Australia, so, where there are concerns, there's a case manager who is assigned from our Pacific Labour Facility team and they investigate directly with employees. So, no, we do not leave it up to just the information that's coming from employers.

CHAIR: Senator Sheldon, how long, do you think?

Senator SHELDON: Just one last—

CHAIR: Alright. We will go a bit over time. Welcome, Minister Colbeck.

Senator SHELDON: This goes to the regulatory process that you've got in place now—and I'm not questioning the dedication of the department; it goes to issues of resources and how the scheme is actually derived and how it is built. With so many reported cases and failings within the agricultural sector, doesn't it tell you that the scheme is not working properly in a number of circumstances?

Ms Heinecke : A lot of the cases that have been reported don't always fall within the remit of the Seasonal Worker Program, which I think you are referring to, which is administered by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, but it's really important to note that every employer—whether that be a labour hire or a direct farm holder—is required to go through a vetting process before they join on. For example, if there are employers who are not doing the right thing, we remove workers and we remove them from the scheme, and we have done that on two occasions recently.

Senator SHELDON: I appreciate that there are some occasions where people finally get caught, and there are very difficult circumstances, as to getting the evidence, where people are prepared to come forward, and I appreciate that there have been those two circumstances where companies have been taken off the list. Are they prosecuted in any other fashion that you are aware of?

Ms Heinecke : It will depend. We manage the program. We manage the deeds that are attached to each employer. We can stop the deed, depending on the nature of the violation of the deed, but, if it was a breach of the fair work conditions, we would refer it to the Fair Work Ombudsman. If there were concerns around employing absconding workers then we would refer that to the Department of Home Affairs, and Border Force would look at those issues. So it would depend a little bit on the nature of the issue.

Senator SHELDON: So you haven't given any list of the obligations on employers and the prosecutions that have occurred against employers that have done the breaches?

Ms Heinecke : The two examples that we've got under the Pacific Labour Scheme have been terminated, due to engagement of absconders, which is not something that we accept under the scheme. They have been terminated for that reason.

Senator SHELDON: The termination of those two employers goes to the heart of my question. What action was taken as to further penalties for turning around and inappropriately being involved in the scheme? Where money has been stolen and where we have seen issues of mistreatment in our meatworks, by what are described in one article as 'visa factories', what is the consequence for the employer, beyond being taken off the scheme?

Also, you have obviously outlined that there are wages that get paid, potentially. But what is the actual action against the employer themselves?

Ms Heinecke : It will depend—

Senator SHELDON: Is it prison terms?

Ms Heinecke : This is prosecuted. In these cases, this is a Home Affairs led issue, so it would be prosecuted, if it were seen to be a criminal case, through the ABF led process for looking at those issues. So it would depend a lot—

CHAIR: But are you aware?

Ms Heinecke : I'm not aware of any employers that have been fined for that process yet. It is still ongoing, in many cases.

Ms Campbell : But this is the scheme that we're currently administering. There is another scheme, which is administered by the Department of Education, Skills and Employment, which might be where we're getting some of those questions from.

Senator SHELDON: Ms Heinecke, thank you—you have sort of gone to the heart of what my concerns are about the scheme.

CHAIR: The committee is suspended.

Proceedings suspended from 15:50 to 16:0 5

CHAIR: The committee is resumed and Senator Wong has the call.

Ms Campbell : Senator, can I just make a brief correction to someone else's evidence quickly?

CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Ms Campbell : When we talked about the size of our delegation to COP26 Ms Klugman said 10. We're actually going to also include two officers who are in Geneva, who are going to go over as well.

Senator WONG: Sure, yes, no worries. Secretary, I've got four or five different topics I'm going to try to quickly skip thought. I'm going to contain them. The first is Annapuranee Jenkins, which is a consular case that I had raised previously after it was in the media three years ago. This came to my attention because of the media around post 2017. This is the Australian who was killed in Penang in 2017 in George Town. It's now been reported that her son has made many trips to Malaysia over four years in his efforts to find out what has happened to his mother. I know DFAT is aware of the case. There's also been a coroner's court investigation. There's been previous public concern about the, I think, royal Selangor police. Have you made any representations on behalf of Mr Jenkins on the investigations to the Malaysian police or the coroner's court?

Mr Wilcock : I caught the tail end of your question, Senator. The answer is yes.

Senator WONG: To whom?

Mr Wilcock : To the Royal Malaysian Police. We speak also to the department of public prosecutions in Penang.

Senator WONG: Are you concerned that the police have declared the case closed off after such a short investigation, as has been previously publicly reported? Has the concern been raised with the Malaysian police?

Mr Wilcock : Not that I'm aware. I'm not aware that the case was declared closed.

Senato r WONG: Sorry, what is your understanding of the status of the police investigation?

Mr Wilcock : That the investigation has been submitted to the department of public prosecutions and the DPP has now submitted it to the coroner's court for a hearing yet to be scheduled.

Senator WONG: Perhaps people will think that I should know this but I don't, why would there only be a submission to the coroner's court?

Mr Wilcock : For the coroner to decide whether to proceed to a full coronial inquest.

Senator WONG: Is there any criminal investigation still on foot?

Mr Wilcock : I would have to come back to you on that.

CHAIR: Can you check whether under Malaysian law that has to go to the coroner in those circumstances so the full criminal proceeding can be instituted?

Mr Wilcock : I can do that.

Senator WONG: Have you offered other assistance to Mr Jenkins?

Mr Wilcock : Yes. We've been working with Mr Jenkins and the rest of the family since Ms Jenkins was reported missing almost four years ago.

Senator WONG: Yes, but have you offered assistance in his attempts, essentially, to get a police investigation undertaken?

Mr Wilcock : Yes, our role has been a consular role—an enabling role: being an intermediary and advocate for the family to the Malaysian authorities, including the Malaysian police.

Senator WONG: Okay. I might follow that up again. I'd like to learn a little more, perhaps, and we can do so in a private meeting at the next consular update that we do, if that's okay?

Mr Wilcock : Very happy to help, Senator.

Senator WONG: Thank you. When the minister returns I'll get her to do the G20 Macron meeting. Myanmar: I was going to ask for a full update but I suspect that others may have already. I just want to know whether there has been any progress on the possibility of targeted sanctions against the Tatmadaw or Tatmadaw-linked entities? This has been discussed previously, obviously in the context of Magnitsky-style legislation. It's also the subject of recommendations from no less than two joint parliamentary committees.

Mr Jadw at : Earlier, the minister—

Senator WONG: I'm sorry, I was out of the room for a bit. I apologise.

Mr Jadwat : Sure. In terms of autonomous sanctions: at the moment we continue to keep the sanctions regime under active consideration. However, at this point in time, we have decided not to impose sanctions, but that doesn't mean that we won't do that in the future. Deliberations around whether or not to impose sanctions of course involve a detailed assessment of what's in our national interest at any given time.

Senator WONG: Yes, okay; I've had that lecture before.

Mr Jadwat : At this point our efforts are focused on a multifaceted approach, including working with ASEAN and regional partners to try to find a solution.

Senator WONG: Where's the legislation?

Mr Jadwat : Sorry, Senator?

Senator WONG: The Minister flagged targeted-sanction Magnitsky-style legislation. What's the status of that?

Mr Jadwat : I'll leave that to our—

Ms Campbell : I think the minister said earlier—

Senator WONG: My apologies.

Ms Campbell : that it's imminent.

Senator WONG: still imminent. It was imminent at last estimates.

Ms Campbell : Yes, I think that the minister—

Senator WONG: Even more imminent?

Ms Campbell : Before the end of the year.

CHAIR: As the time goes by it becomes—

Senator WONG: It becomes even more imminent! But it's still not in the parliament?

Ms Campbell : I might just get Adam McCarthy, our Chief Legal Officer, to come to the table and give us an update.

Senator WONG: Has it been introduced?

Mr McCarthy : No, it's intended that it be introduced before the end of the year.

Ms Campbell : Before the end of the year.

Senator WONG: Well, you have one parliamentary session to get it done.

Mr McCarthy : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Okay. Now, Bangladesh. Again, I'm not sure if you did this while I was out of the room but I did have a number of questions about the situation in Bangladesh.

Senator FAWCETT: Just while Senator Wong is waiting for officials to reach the table can I just indicate that I support her concerns about Myanmar and would welcome the [inaudible] of the bills for the Magnitsky-style legislation and trust we can see that introduced and passed as soon as practicable.

Senator WONG: Hear, hear! There have certainly been BBC news reports and, possibly, domestic reports here in Australia about the events in Bangladesh: reports of mob violence targeting Hindu minorities. There have been reports of desecration of temples, Hindu homes and businesses. Can someone give me an update of your understanding of the current situation? Mr Hayhurst or Mr Cowan?

Mr Hayhurst : I'll defer to Mr Cowan on that, Senator.

Mr Cowan : Yes, we've seen the reports and the evidence of attacks on Hindus in the recent Durga Puja festival. There have been a number of deaths, violence and arson, as you said. The violence was sparked by allegations on social media that Hindus had defamed the Koran. There was a shutdown of mobile data services across six districts to prevent use of the internet to foment further violence. What I could also say is that we understand in the last couple of days that police have arrested 680 alleged perpetrators. The law minister has said that laws will be passed to protect minorities, and the foreign minister and the Prime Minister of Bangladesh have made statements on support for freedom of religion. What I could also say is that our High Commission there has been active. Our High Commissioner has conveyed Australia's concerns to the Prime Minister's office in Bangladesh and also to governing party MPs and party officials.

Senator WONG: Has the department or the foreign minister or her office engaged with community representatives in Australia to discuss this situation?

Mr Cowan : Not to my knowledge. The foreign minister has conveyed condolences to victims of violence and Australia's support for tolerance, diversity and religious expression.

Senator WONG: I take this opportunity to again underline the bipartisan support for such statements.

This may have been raised while I was out of the room, but I did want an update on Mohammed El Halabi. This is the World Vision employee who was detained by the Israeli government in 2016. There were some accusations of diversion of aid money. I think Ms Bishop required DFAT to undertake its own internal investigation, and it found no evidence to suggest any diversion of Australian government funds. Mr Costello, Tim Costello, has recently made a public statement. Can you provide an update of Mr Halabi's situation and the status of matters against him?

CHAIR: I have a bracket of question on this as well.

Senator WONG: I figured that.

CHAIR: Has his trial been finished?

Mr Innes-Brown : The proceedings continue. There have been suggestions that they might draw to a close soon. There's been some discussions in the last few weeks about this, including amongst the NGO community and diplomatic missions. However, at this stage, no determination has been reached.

CHAIR: Are the trials being held in secret because of the allegations or suggestions of the links to terrorism—is that correct? And is that why it's a bit hard to know what's going on?

Mr Innes-Brown : I believe so, but I will double check and get some additional information on that.

Senator WONG: Just to confirm, is it your understanding that neither DFAT nor the World Vision reviews indicated that any Australian aid money was diverted to Hamas?

Mr Innes-Brown : The Australian review did not find any evidence of that.

Senator WONG: You can't speak to the World Vision?

Mr Innes-Brown : My recollection is they engaged some external consultants, both World Vision Australia and World Vision International. My understanding of the findings of those surveys, from recollection, is that they did not find any evidence in their files.

CHAIR: Are their funds fungible though?

Senator WONG: I understand your view about this. I also have a view about people being held for five years without trial. It's a Magna Carta position.

CHAIR: But when funds are being diverted which then leads to tunnelling et cetera and deaths of other persons—whilst I agree with your concern that people are held for five years, if that which is asserted against him has actually been done, then there is human tragedy.

Senator WONG: Did we provide any findings to the Israeli authorities?

CHAIR: I'd have to take that on notice. They would be aware; it's in the public record.

Senator WONG: Sure, I just wondered if we provided findings. Do you have any information you could give us as to why it's taken so long to bring this matter to conclusion?

Mr Innes-Brown : I do not.

Senator WONG: As Senator Abetz said, these trials are conducted in secret—I don’t know the correct phrase; that's how it's reported. Do we have any visibility?

Mr Innes-Brown : Not that I'm aware of. I will check.

Senator WONG: No Australian official or officer has any knowledge of the progress of the trial?

Mr Innes-Brown : I'll take it on notice.

Senator WONG: Does that mean you don't know?

Mr Innes-Brown : I don't know.

Senator WONG: Okay. Tim Costello has been quite public about concerns about Mr El-Halabi. He wrote an op-ed earlier this year. Has he met with anyone in the department, the foreign minister or her office about these issues?

Senator Payne: I haven't met Mr Costello on these issues.

Mr Innes-Brown : Since I've come back to this position, he has not met us in the Middle East and Africa Division.

Senator WONG: What's his citizenship status?

Mr Innes-Brown : He's a Palestinian.

Senator WONG: He has no dual citizenship?

Mr Innes-Brown : He's not Australian, no.

Senator WONG: Or any other?

Mr Innes-Brown : I don’t know. I know he's not Australian.

Senator WONG: I have nothing further on that; I'm sure Senator Abetz has. Minister, you were going to get advice as to whether the Prime Minister or his office sought a meeting with President Macron in the margins of the G20 and whether a decision was made not to seek a meeting.

Senator Payne: I don't know whether that's come up yet. I'm sending a message now.

Senator WONG: That’s what you said that last time.

Senator Payne: I know, then I left the room to go to a meeting, and now I've come back.

Senator WONG: Secretary, I think your staff have an update to table on the ODA?

Ms Campbell : Is that the expenditure?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Ms Campbell : We have one of those. We'll get that to you.

CHAIR: How long will your 15 minutes go for?

Senator WONG: Sorry, love, I apologise. See I called you love. I tried to make it better.

Senator Payne: You did, it's on the Hansard.

Senator WONG: It's my tactic—be nice to Eric.

Senator Payne: Highly tactical!

Senator WONG: I get five minutes.

CHAIR: Somebody's got to be.

Senator WONG: He's all right. The former leader was all right to deal with.

Senator Payne: It's a club, is it? I don't know; one I have never sought to join.

Senator WONG: Hence your assessment of the high commissioner. There are some people you can trust, even if you disagree with them—do what they say they'll do.

CHAIR: Do we have an issue before the committee?

Senator WONG: Yes. I'm asking for the tabling of the document. That's all I'm asking for and then I'm out of here—and the minister will come back on that answer at some point.

CHAIR: Can that be tabled?

Senator WONG: Do you need a bit more time on that, Secretary?

Ms Campbell : We don't seem to have the physical copy here.

CHAIR: As soon as the document arrives, it can be tabled.

Senator WONG: No worries. Thanks everyone.

CHAIR: I have some questions. Firstly, the FITS.

Senator Payne: We are not responsible for the FITS, the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: The foreign relations scheme.

Senator Payne: The foreign relations scheme?

CHAIR: The BRI—

Senator Payne: We are responsible for foreign relations.

CHAIR: Yes, foreign relations.

Senator WONG: FITS is Home Affairs.

CHAIR: What's the diplomatic term—cancelled, set aside?

Mr Newnham : Is your question around the four arrangements that were cancelled by the foreign minister in April?

CHAIR: Yes.

Mr Newnham : They are inoperative now.

CHAIR: And since that time have any other arrangements been made inoperative?

Mr Newnham : The answer to that is no. There have been in excess of 50 decisions by the foreign minister, which are the four we just mentioned plus a number of decisions on prospective arrangements, but no actual cancellations of decisions at this point.

CHAIR: So, out of those 50, do we then say that 46 have been allowed to continue on?

Mr Newnham : Yes.

CHAIR: Are they being put under further assessment?

Mr Newnham : I'm going to check the figure.

Mr McCarthy : There are 48.

CHAIR: Same diff. Those 48 have been accepted—

Mr Newnham : Have been found to be consistent with the test in the legislation.

CHAIR: Thank you. I understand that the department got an extra section or a number of personnel to deal with the vetting of a whole lot of various arrangements. Can we be given a quick update on how that is proceeding and how many have been checked/vetted?

Mr McCarthy : A total of 9,862 arrangements have been notified under the scheme as at 20 October. All of those, if you like, have had an initial vetting. There's a triage process, if you like. Most of those are obviously not of any concern. Then it goes up through gradations to those that are of more interest, if I can put it that way.

CHAIR: So how many of those 9,000-plus that have been triaged have been confirmed, if you like, at the first stage?

Mr McCarthy : As Mr Newnham said, 52 have gone to the minister for decision and then at various levels below that arrangements are sort of working their way up through degrees of consideration. As I said, a very large volume of arrangements have been notified.

CHAIR: Is the department satisfied that it is able to methodically and purposefully get through what is quite clearly a heavy workload, with some 9,000 notifications?

Mr McCarthy : Yes. It's a work in progress. It's a very big commitment and a very big scheme, but we are working our way through it and we are very confident that we can acquit the responsibility.

CHAIR: When an organisation notifies do they then receive an acknowledgement from the department that their notification has been received and is under active consideration?

Mr McCarthy : Yes, an electronic notification.

CHAIR: And are they given an indication as to how much time it might take?

Mr McCarthy : No.

Senator Payne: There is a statutory period in terms of prospective arrangements. Decisions have to be made within that statutory period.

Mr Newnham : That's right. And I note too that these are arrangements that all eventually, except those that are exempt, go on a register and are there kind of forevermore and open to government to look at from time to time over the course of time. It's worth recognising that this is a from-here-on type scenario.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Mr Newnham, you know what my concerns throughout this process have been. As you've looked at arrangements have you come across the sorts of arrangements where it's very clear that they are activities that are done on behalf of state-owned entities connected to foreign governments and, as a consequence of the lack of a control test in that legislation, they are not caught but should otherwise be caught because they are arrangements with state governments that are categorised as commercial? You know the sorts of activities I'm talking about.

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Has your engagement with the scheme to this point changed or made you more concerned about the need to revisit that issue of the commercial definition?

Mr Newnham : If anything, I think our experience to this point—and I would just caution: these are the early months of a scheme that's new. But my view would be that it's actually confirmed that this scheme is nestled within a range of frameworks in Australia. I know it's a frustration that sometimes this scheme doesn't cover everything, but that's intentional actually. There is the Foreign Investment Review Board. There is the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. There are countering foreign influence schemes as well, and this is nestled inside a range of those, effectively, resilience frameworks that the government has introduced. Importantly—and I know we've talked about this in the past—those other schemes intentionally cover a range of existing and future agreements that affect Australia. They come with different consequences for breach. This one is necessarily anchored in foreign policy and foreign relations and necessarily anchored in states and territories, universities and local governments. We think the combination actually sits neatly and we're seeing a lot of information exchange, if I could put it that way, amongst those frameworks.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I know, but there are a number of existing arrangements—whether it's ownership or other arrangements that are in place—that, had this scheme been in place, would not otherwise have been undertaken. I think that's really where I'm going to.

Mr Newnham : I understand that point very much. I would, of course, come back to this: that number is as high as it is because there is a university-to-university framework there, as you know, that covers institutional autonomy—in other words, foreign universities that don't exercise institutional autonomy. So I would just go back to where your question started, I think, which was the level of state reach-in to entities that engage with Australian entities. To a good extent, the scope of this framework does impact on exactly that issue.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I'm most particularly concerned about that reach-in to state government activities, particularly in sectors that are critical sectors. I know that, bit by bit, we're closing some of that, but that doesn't get away from the fact that there are assets which are effectively in foreign control because they are in the control of entities that are effectively under the control of state-owned enterprises which are, in turn, under the control of foreign entities. That's the concern.

Mr Newnham : Yes. Understood.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I'll leave it there, but I think you know I'll keep pursuing my concerns.

CHAIR: Minister, this is possibly a question for you, and it is in regard to, for want of a better term, the Magnitsky-style legislation. I understand that's currently being drafted. We were told in your absence by the officials that it is imminent, if I recall correctly. Are you able to shed any more light on whether it is likely to be introduced into this year's parliament and, hopefully, passed?

Senator Payne: That's my hope and my intention, Senator.

CHAIR: Thanks for that clarification. Whilst I'm with you, Minister, I have been working, I think, all the time that I've been in this place, seeking to get the United Kingdom to change its attitude in relation to matters social security and pensions that might arouse the interest—

Senator Payne: It's a big issue in South Australia.

CHAIR: of the new secretary of this department, because she has undoubtedly dealt with these issues. But there has been, I understand, an FOI request made in relation to the government's representations to the United Kingdom. For what it's worth, a Mr Patrick Edwards from British Pensions in Australia has asked whether we can find out the current state of play.

Ms Campbell : Of the FOI request?

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator Payne: It'll be handled with due process, according to the FOI requirements.

CHAIR: Yes. But I think we are at a very close or particular stage now; is that correct?

Mr Geering : In terms of the FOI, yes. As you know, there's a statutory process associated with that, and the FOI is going through it. In terms of—

CHAIR: I think we're all aware of that, but whereabouts is it in that statutory process. I thought we were just about to—

Senator Payne: I think we're in the middle of a period which was an extension of time granted by the OAIC. I'm sure that we'll comply with that extension of time.

CHAIR: I know the good senator Jocelyn Newman was pursuing this, and Senator Fawcett wants to come in on this as well.

Senator FAWCETT: Not on the British extensions, but while the minister is there I'd like to thank her for her commitment on the Magnitsky-style autonomous sanctions and for her update that they'll be introduced imminently. I look forward to that and to her support, as well as that of those opposite, to make sure we get those through the parliament ASAP.

Senator Payne: Subject to parliamentary support and with the agreement of the black arts purveyors of Senate business, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Noted.

CHAIR: One would trust there wouldn't be any opposition to it. My friend and colleague Senator Claire Chandler expressed some disquiet at DFAT signing Australia up to a particular instrument dealing with radical gender theory.

Ms Campbell : I think this was in one particular location. I think this was in a single post—one of the posts overseas.

Senator Payne: I know the issue Senator Chandler was raising, and we'll provide an answer on notice.

CHAIR: I think you already answered Senator Rice in relation to the Tigray matter in Ethiopia; is that correct?

Ms Campbell : I think the minister responded.

Senator Payne: Yes, including in relation to some humanitarian funding support.

CHAIR: Thank you for reminding me. If I heard correctly, we have a specialist that deals with matters in Africa and the Middle East.

Ms Campbell : Yes. Mr Innes-Brown is on his way.

CHAIR: Does that cover the Congo, Iran and Israel.

Ms Campbell : Yes. I assume so.

Senator Payne: This extreme occupational health and safety to make people run up and down the stairs to answer questions does my head in. I hope that the next estimates don't require officials to do that sort of thing. That's my personal view. I'm just oversharing. They have to run up and down the stairs because they're not allowed to sit here. It's dangerous.

CHAIR: It's good for the health, isn't it?

Senator Payne: It is all of those things, until somebody trips.

CHAIR: On that I would agree.

Senator Payne: Touch wood that it does not happen. I did complain about it on the last occasion and the presiding officers refused to listen to me.

CHAIR: I think we suggested a fireman's pole rather than the steps, didn't we?

Senator Payne: I think we should change them both out. Sorry, Senator, your question.

CHAIR: In the Congo, were the elections that were held there relatively recently accepted as valid and representative of the wish of the people? This is the Republic of the Congo as opposed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I confess I am no expert in the area, but a constituent has spoken to me about it.

Mr Innes-Brown : I'll take that on notice.

CHAIR: Is there political persecution in the Congo? What happens to opposition leaders there? Are mass rallies allowed if they are from the opposition parties?

And are specific tribes treated harshly—in particular, the Bacongo, who are the southerners. Of course, coming from Tasmania I've got an affinity with southerners being persecuted! In fact, it's a very serious matter. If I could have the answers to that, I'd be much obliged.

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator. We'll take that on notice.

CHAIR: I've just noticed that we have somebody who might be an expert on Cuba—and I know that's not in Africa or the Middle East. Could they make their way to the table. Can I then ask about Iran. I've been told that Iran is on the nuclear threshold. Is Iran on the nuclear threshold?

Ms G orely : I think what you're referring to are the various steps that Iran has been taking since it decided to walk away from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Indeed, it has now started to enrich uranium way beyond the JCPOA limit, which is 3.6 per cent, to 60 per cent.

CHAIR: That is a substantial margin—not a margin of error, one assumes, but deliberate. So what's happening on the world scene and what's Australia doing?

Ms Gorely : Unfortunately, the parties to the JCPOA have been pressing hard for a resumption of talks. But that has not happened. Since the Iranian election, the Iranians have refused to come to the table. The Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency has been making tireless efforts to get Iran to take steps to comply with the JCPOA, pending a resumption of talks. So far, he's had limited success on that front.

CHAIR: Has he had any success?

Ms Gorely : Iran walked away from the additional protocol safeguards obligation that it had agreed to under the JCPOA, and he was able to get Iran to temporarily agree to allow IAEA inspectors to continue to visit the country. But that's now not being observed by Iran, so it's a deeply concerning situation. Our ambassador in Vienna, Richard Sadleir, has continued to raise the issue, most recently in the board of governors meeting of the IAEA that took place in September.

CHAIR: I have been advised—and tell me if this is incorrect—that Tehran has now accumulated enough fissile material for at least two nuclear warheads, with a break-out time of less than three months. Is that a correct assessment of the situation?

Ms Gorely : I'm not a nuclear scientist myself, so I can't really comment on the precise break-out time that is involved. I know that the Director-General of the IAEA made some comments in the media around that. I can't recall the exact time frame he specified but, whatever it was, it's a deeply worrying thing.

CHAIR: I was just going to say you don't have to be a nuclear scientist to be concerned in the event of this assertion being correct. Could you please take on notice and find out whether that is the best evidence or advice available—that they have enough fissile material for at least two nuclear warheads, with a break-out time of three months.

Ms Gorely : Certainly.

CHAIR: Thank you. The Biden administration has a declared policy of restoring the 2015 JCPOA. Is that correct?

Ms Gorely : Yes, I think there was certainly an intention by the Biden administration to resume talks with Iran.

CHAIR: And then negotiating a longer and stronger—that's the terminology I understand they used—agreement. Now, what's our assessment of its achievability?

Ms Gorely : Well, at the moment, we would have to say based on the—

CHAIR: Somewhat bleak.

M s Gorely : It's a bleak, pessimistic assessment.

CHAIR: Alright. Thank you for that. Moving to matters Israel, if I may, Minister, can I quickly editorialise and say I'm delighted that, as I understand it, the government has adopted the IHRA definition of 'anti-Semitism'. Is that correct that in recent times we have adopted that?

Senator Payne: That's the—I'm just trying to deal with the acronym in my head.

CHAIR: IHRA.

Senator Payne: Yes, we have embraced that.

CHAIR: Good. Thank you. I've asked about that at previous estimates and there had been a reluctance, for a whole host of reasons I was given. It's nice to know that those hosts of reasons, whatever they were, no longer apply. I want to compliment whoever was responsible, which is ultimately the government, for that change. Now the UNHRC has created this permanent inquiry into Israel, or a standing agenda item, et cetera. Do we have any progress in relation to that? And just confirm—

Senator Payne: You mean the Human Rights Council?

CHAIR: UNHRC. The UN Human Rights Council passed that resolution creating a permanent commission of inquiry. What other country is subject to such a permanent commission of inquiry?

Mr Innes-Brown : We obviously don't support Israel being singled out with a separate agenda item, which is item 7. We don't believe it is appropriate. Getting to the second part of your question, it does not occur for any other country in such a specific way.

CHAIR: Right. So it doesn't apply to North Korea or Cuba or China? Iran? None of those countries?

Mr Innes-Brown : The notes before me suggest that Israel is unique in having a specific focus.

CHAIR: I'm just making the point that the UN's credibility in that regard is severely dented when you think of Israel having democratic elections, believing in the rule of law, et cetera, and some very gross human rights violators are not subject to a standing item on the United Nations Human Rights Council. If I can move to Mr El Halabi, whom Senator Wong was asking about. Just bear with me; a number of the questions I was going to ask have been asked. In relation to the inquiry undertaken by World Vision, do we know the organisation that undertook that inquiry for World Vision?

Mr Innes-Brown : There were two inquiries, as I said. World Vision Australia undertook an inquiry, as did World Vision International. World Vision International—I believe the name of the organisation that did the due diligence inquiry was an organisation called Piper. I believe it's an international legal firm. If my memory serves me correctly, for World Vision Australia it was Ernst & Young.

CHAIR: When was that publicly made available? Do you know?

Mr Innes-Brown : I don't know whether either of them were publicly made available, but I will—

CHAIR: In July of this year I was being informed—

Mr Innes-Brown : Really?

CHAIR: that it was neither the actual findings nor the name of the accounting firm were made public, leaving the issue unresolved. We are now being told that World Vision Australia engaged Ernst & Young.

Mr Innes-Brown : That's my recollection.

CHAIR: Take that on notice and just confirm, rather than delaying. Please also take on notice whether the actual findings were made public or whether World Vision just issued a media release saying there's been an inquiry and a clean bill of health.

Ms Campbell : We'll take those on notice so we can give you more comprehensive answer.

CHAIR: If you could.

Mr Innes-Brown : The answer I gave you on the companies was correct, but we'll check the details of the disclosure.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I've also been told that, once the money was sent to Gaza, the ability of World Vision officials to monitor its use was limited by the fact that the territory is under the control of the Hamas terror organisation and that outsiders have no independent sources of information. Would you agree with that assessment?

Ms Campbell : In this context, we might be best to take it on notice.

CHAIR: Alright. Take that on notice. Then I've been told that indeed nothing World Vision officials have offered suggests that the organisation had any source of information other than relying on the word of El Halabi and perhaps others who worked with him.

Ms Campbell : I'm not sure we have that level of detail here at the moment. We'll take it on notice.

CHAIR: See what you can provide to us, please. I did make the comment during Senator Wong's evidence that—

Senator WONG: Questions. I didn't give evidence.

CHAIR: Sorry—questions. You can understand how I made the mistake, though, given all your editorialising, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Not on that! I asked very straight, flat questions on that one.

CHAIR: I stand corrected.

Senator WONG: On other things, yes, possibly. I concede.

CHAIR: Yes. On the questions that the money in effect becomes sort of fungible—if you make money available, let's say for education purposes, then Hamas doesn't have to spend their own money on that and can then use funds for digging tunnels, but I understand that some of the money was provided for building purposes and that some of that may have been for the building of tunnels. Do we have any insight into that?

Ms Campbell : I don't think we have any insight with us today. We'll take it on notice and see what we can provide.

CHAIR: Please take that on notice. Thank you. To Cuba now, please, and then to China.

Senator WONG: I do want to get back to minister, who was coming back on the question to the PMO.

Senator Payne: I have sought an answer, and I have not been given an answer.

Senator WONG: I'll finish it off here, then, if I can. I think it's extraordinary that the foreign minister of Australia can't get an answer from the Prime Minister's office about whether a meeting has been sought with the President of France. This is an important relationship. I am astonished that the Prime Minister's staff, the PMO, are not telling the foreign minister whether or not they've even sought a—

Senator Payne: I don't know why I have not been privy to the advice.

Senator WONG: Either he's giving you some space or, more likely, his staff just don't want to tell the truth about it.

CHAIR: And this is not editorialising?

Senator WONG: I just want to say this: Mr Morrison is at meetings with President Macron—at two summits in two weeks—and he's not meeting him, and he won't tell us why. The reasonable question I ask is: is your government, is Mr Morrison, actually trying to fix this important relationship?

Senator Payne: Absolutely, on a number of levels. As I said, I'm meeting with the ambassador in person on Monday. It's only because of COVID restrictions and his quarantine that I have not been able to do that. The secretary has spoken with the ambassador again today—that is, I think, her second conversation with the ambassador in quarantine—and the Prime Minister's international advisor and my chief of staff have both spoken with the ambassador. I have sought a call, as I said to you this morning, with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. We are very focused on making sure that we are able to address exactly those issues that you raise. I apologise that I don't have an answer for you yet.

Senator WONG: The French government made it clear that their concerns were substantial.

Senator Payne: Absolutely.

Senator WONG: They were also concerned about the Prime Minister. I think Mr Turnbull went to this at his National Press Club speech. This relationship needs leader level and ministerial level as well as official level work. That's a national interest point. Do you agree that we have a leader of the country who either is not trying to meet the president or has been refused a meeting?

Senator Payne: My understanding is that the Prime Minister has, as he has said, communicated with the president and is more than willing to engage. I will provide you with whatever advice I am able to when it is given to me.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I appreciate that.

CHAIR: I have been interrupted and Senator Faruqi is on the line. So we might as well go to Senator Faruqi now and then I will ask my questions after that. Senator Faruqi, you have the call.

Senator Payne: I apologise if I interrupted you, Senator Abetz.

Senator WONG: No; he allowed me because we needed to go back to it before you left.

Senator Payne: Understood.

CHAIR: I'm here for the duration, so it doesn't really matter when I ask my questions.

Senator Payne: That's true. You can't go very far.

Senator FARUQI: Thanks, Chair, and good afternoon, everyone. I want to start off with some questions on Pacific debt levels. Is the Australian government concerned about the debt levels amongst Pacific island states?

Senator Payne: Would you just wait until the official comes to the table, please, Senator?

Senator FARUQI: Sure.

CHAIR: Senator Faruqi, we have an official at the table for you.

Senator FARUQI: Great.

Mr McDonald : Good afternoon, Senator. In relation to your question on the region, we are watching very closely the economic impact of the pandemic. Of course, part of that goes to the debt levels in the Pacific countries. We work very closely with the international or multilateral banks in terms of their assessment—IMF, ADB and the World Bank—and that informs how we deal with any lending in the region.

Senator FARUQI: What support has the Australian government provided the Pacific Islands Forum towards the creation and implementation of the Pacific Resilience Facility in order to build resilience, preparedness and adaptive capacity for dealing with climate disasters.

Mr McDonald : The Pacific Resilience Facility is set up through the Pacific Islands Forum—that is true. That is looking to a time when it can seek funding for it in the future. What has slowed that has been the impact of the pandemic in the region. So the priorities of the countries in the region have shifted, as you would imagine, to health and budget support, given the impact on people's livelihoods as well as in terms of their priorities around health. So there has been no—

Senator FARUQI: My question was pretty specific. Has the Australian government provided any support towards the establishment of the facility?

Mr McDonald : It's not operational at the moment. Yes, we have provided support in the design and the original concept. We provided funding support—and I can give you on notice what that was. But, as I say, the priorities for the region are set by the countries in the region, and at the moment the health pandemic is obviously a major priority for the countries.

Senator Payne: Senator Faruqi, as I recall, there was intended to be a pledging conference for the Pacific Resilience Facility, which, to the best of my recollection, did not proceed because of COVID. It was meant to be held, I think, in 2020 and it didn't proceed. I think Mr McDonald is very accurate in saying that the countries of the region have been focused on their COVID response and recovery, but I'm sure that the fund will come back to the fore as a subject for discussion and development.

Senator FARUQI: Minister, given Australia's contribution to creating the climate crisis and the lack of action in tackling it, will you cancel Australia's bilateral debt, including with PNG and Indonesia, and advocate cancelling global debt that shackles low-income countries, keeps them in poverty and is stopping them really having enough resilience and preparedness for the climate crisis that is impending?

Senator Payne: Australia is a very responsible participant in these areas and encourages transparency and sustainability and has been consistently very clear about this for as long as I have been in this role and before that, as I'm sure others in the room will attest to.

As to the cancellation of debt, we have worked with the multilaterals, in particular, in relation to the management of these matters during COVID, which has brought about great economic stress on a number of these countries. The work that we do, for example, through the Australia Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific is predicated on delivering on those principles of transparency and sustainability, prioritising projects which are climate resilient or climate adapted, as is appropriate, in four areas: in water, in energy, in communications and in transport. That continues to be a focus for us.

Mr McDonald : If I could add to my earlier comment on the technical assistance we provided for the design, we provided $400,000 towards that.

Senator FARUQI: Does the department plan to create and integrate indicators that would provide this aggregated data related to gender and age across the Australian aid portfolio?

Senator Payne: That is not a question for Mr McDonald, Senator.

CHAIR: We need another official.

Ms Klugman : Senator, you asked about disaggregated gender and other data across the development and cooperation program. This is a particular focus for us, and it has been over the last few years in the development program. We have learnt from our own lessons but also from global lessons that, when it comes to having an impact on gender outcomes through a development program and when it comes to successful mainstreaming, which is what we're all about in the development program, you need to start with data. So, yes, at the design phase, we're phasing this in and adjusting the total program.

Senator FARUQI: So do we have indicators yet or not to provide disaggregated data?

Ms Klugman : We have indicators specifically about the impact on women in every single one of our substantial development spends.

Senator FARUQI: And age?

Ms Klugman : Not for age, as far as I know. Ms Delaney will correct me right now if I'm wrong.

Senator FARUQI: So you haven't yet created and integrated indicators that would provide disaggregated data related to gender and age across the aid portfolio, although you said that it was important to do that?

Senator Payne: Ms Delaney is going to respond to you, Senator.

Ms Delaney : As I think we've discussed previously and as Ms Klugman has pointed out, we have indicators around investments effectively addressing gender equality and also around social inclusion issues, including disability. Because of the nature of our programs and because we have a range of partners, through the design phase, where there are programs that involve working with women and girls or different vulnerable groups, we do ask for that disaggregated data; often, as you would understand, in a number of the areas that we work in, access to that disaggregated data can be very difficult. But we do encourage, where it's available, reporting on it through our specific programs. That allows us to then aggregate that information up into our results frameworks.

Senator FARUQI: What is the department's plan to include girls' education as a key pillar in the climate action strategy?

Senator Payne: We'll get you the appropriate officer.

Ms Klugman : I'm just trying to interpret your question, Senator. Could you repeat it. In our climate action strategy—

Senator FARUQI: Yes—do you have a plan to include girls' education as a key pillar? I know that a number of NGOs have included that in their top 10 climate solutions. Do you have a plan to do that?

Mr Isbister : Yes. The climate change action strategy has an outline in terms of looking at how to address the particular needs of the most vulnerable communities, acknowledging both the impact it has on small island states, obviously, and particularly the impact it's having on women, girls and children. So, in terms of looking at how investments are made, the design of them and the monitoring of that, what impact it's having on those groups is certainly a key part of the implementation and monitoring of climate change programs.

Senator FARUQI: Sure, but I'm particularly asking about girls' education.

Mr Isbister : One of the issues we know about, in terms of education, is how to ensure there's resilient infrastructure, particularly following crises and disasters. Part of the investment that is made through our early recovery programs, in terms of ensuring that schools are more resilient and more able to deal with future crises, is critical in ensuring that there's access for all, and particularly for girls, in response to those crises.

Senator FARUQI: Will DFAT's climate action strategy include any new targets for projects where climate change action is a principal goal? I understand that currently there's nothing.

Mr Isbister : The climate change action strategy informs the designs that our development programs take. When we're investing in new programs, the climate change action strategy informs assessments about the potential future risks and what those might mean, in terms of considerations on infrastructure designs, on water security and on food security elements. That's how it then ensures that, through those designs, the programs are going to be more resilient and able to address those challenges. The monitoring framework, in terms of determining whether or not that's been effectively implemented, is then looked at through the M&E processes that we have through different programs.

Senator FARUQI: That's a very broad answer to the very specific question I asked, but I'm running out of time. I have a few questions on climate finance. I'm not sure if the relevant officers are here for that.

CHAIR: Senator Faruqi, could you curtail to one or two questions on this issue, and then we'll conclude.

Senator FARUQI: Sure.

CHAIR: I think we've got an official remotely.

Senator FARUQI: Okay, thank you. A recent report by a number of prominent international development, environmental and other organisations has proposed a method for calculating Australia's fair share of global climate finance, and they have calculated a huge gap in Australia's fair share. So I'm just wondering if the government agrees that doubling Australia's current climate finance to $3 billion over 2020-25 is a reasonable ask. That would bring Australia to the table as a serious player and demonstrate its concern for our neighbours in the region as far as climate change impacts them.

Ms Klugman : Senator, I'd certainly say that Australia is a serious player when it comes to climate finance, particularly in the Pacific, which is a particular focus of our finance. I'd like it make a couple of points about Australia's climate finance that go to the comparison with others. First, as you know, under the Paris agreement and subsequent calls, the best kind of climate finance is the kind of climate finance that focuses not only on mitigation but has very substantial action in adaptation. If you look at Australia's share, the share of our climate finance that goes to adaptation, it is very high and it is markedly higher than many other contributors to climate finance. The second point I'd make is that Australia has made a substantial commitment to climate finance over the five years from 2020 to 2025. That commitment, unlike the commitments made by many others who might be the comparison set that you're referring to or the article the assessment is referring to, include and count the full face value of loans in the area relevant to climate finance. We don't do that. Our climate finance, like the rest of our development cooperation program, is overwhelmingly grant based. So they're two points that I would make.

Senator FARUQI: I disagree with your assessment, because the Climate Action Tracker lists Australia near the bottom of global rankings for climate finance and broader climate action and the fair share target for Australia as 'highly insufficient'. So could I ask again, and maybe of the minister, will the government actually respond to these reports and these asks—we know our Pacific neighbours are watching their children and grandchildren's future literally disappear under water—and double the funding for climate finance to $3 billion over 2020-25?

Senator Payne: You might disagree, Senator, but what Ms Klugman said is actually absolutely correct, and it is a fact with which it is very difficult to disagree and it is a fact of record. What Australia will do in relation to climate finance will be announced in the context of COP26. But I can say, and you know this, that we have already increased our commitment by 50 per cent to $1.5 billion through to 2025, and we will have more to say.

Senator FARUQI: Okay. It's pretty insufficient, but thank you for your response, Minister. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Pleasure, thank you, Senator Faruqi. It looks as though I'm the last man standing for the department—which, if I can keep myself to a timetable, could I invite trade to be ready by 5.30, perchance—

Ms Campbell : We will get that message to them. There are some of them here.

CHAIR: rather than 6pm. But I have a few questions still: one on Cuba, and then China.

Ms Campbell : We do have the officer for Cuba here, and then we'll have the China team come to the table.

CHAIR: Mr Geering, there have been reports that there have been substantial demonstrations in Cuba for a whole host of reasons and that they have been met by internet blackouts, arbitrary arrests and excessive use of force, including police firing on demonstrators and other repressive measures. Are you able to confirm that those reports are accurate?

Mr Geering : Yes, Senator. There were a range of nationwide protests on 11 July. Our embassy in Mexico, which is accredited to Cuba, made representations to Cuba on the way that those were handled, and I'm sure you'll be aware, Senator, and would have seen in the news that there are further protests planned, occurring now and going into next month and that the government of Cuba has made some very strong statements about how it plans to deal with those. Obviously, Senator, we oppose the use of force against people who are protesting peacefully.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Let's move to China. Ms Lawson, thank you for coming back to the table. There are reports that China is—and when I say China, I'm referring to the dictatorship, of course—offering deals for the Taliban in a power grab and basically trading with the Taliban in Afghanistan and dealing with the Uighur population as a trade-off. Do we have any information on that?

Mr Hayhurst : I might start on that question. We've seen reports of the Taliban or delegations representing the Taliban visiting China, and China in turn retains an embassy in Kabul. I don't think we have any direct information that suggests the substance of their discussions. There was a lot of media coverage in the early days after the collapse of the government in Kabul that China would move in and run projects and do all sorts of things. I think the security situation is so complex. Not much has actually happened, and we're of course no longer on the ground in Afghanistan. But we watch closely what China does in all of its neighbouring countries, and of course they share a land border.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. The National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, who can assist me with that? Is it true that they fund China-linked activities in society through grants?

Mr Hayhurst : I'll ask Ms Lawson to answer these questions, but it is true that the foundation runs a grants program.

Ms Lawson : Yes, Senator. It is the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations. It's probably to be expected that there will be China-related entities. But I would like to say—

CHAIR: Alright, linked to the dictatorship?

Ms Lawson : I think it's important to say that we have very good due diligence processes with all of our grants processes through the national foundation.

CHAIR: Right, bear with me. Is that similar to the Great Britain-China Centre that operates in the UK or not?

Ms Lawso n : In what sense?

CHAIR: In the way that the activities are undertaken in China. Sorry, delete all that from Hansard and allow me to start again. Are we thinking of setting up a centre such as the Great Britain-China Centre?

Mr Hayhurst : I'm not sure, Senator, that we are directly are familiar with what that centre is. We have the national foundation. It's the Australian foundation, it's about Australia's interests as they relate to China and it has not that long been established, so that's our priority. But we might look into, Ms Lawson and I, what this Great Britain centre is and come back to you if there's anything unresolved there.

CHAIR: Alright, thank you. There has in relatively recent times been an assessment by UN human rights experts who have become alarmed by organ-harvesting allegations in China. The experts said they have received credible information that detainees from ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities may be forcibly subjected to blood tests and organ examinations such as ultrasound and X-rays without their informed consent while other prisoners are not required to undergo such examinations, and those minorities include Falun Gong practitioners, Uighurs, Tibetans, Muslims and Christians in detention in China. Are we able to confirm that we are of the view that those experts are correct in their assessments?

Ms Lawson : We're aware of those reports, and of course we do take all such allegations very seriously. We have in fact raised the concerns in those reports with the Chinese government to say that, if they are true, that would be deeply concerning.

CHAIR: You say 'if they're true'. We've had the China report by Sir Geoffrey Nice. The report was quite substantial. I think I've asked in the past about this—we have no reason to doubt the findings of that tribunal? Some other countries have also made comments about genocide under the dictatorship in China. I think the Canadian human rights parliamentary committee may have come up with similar findings; is that correct?

Ms Lawson : I think there have been some other countries that have spoken about genocide, not necessarily in relation to this case; I think it's more in relation to Xinjiang.

CHAIR: Sorry—the China Tribunal was in relation to organ harvesting.

Ms Lawson : You're talking about the Uighur tribunal?

CHAIR: No. The China Tribunal—

Ms Lawson : Sir Geoffrey Nice, yes.

Senator Payne: It was in relation to organ harvesting.

CHAIR: Yes.

Ms Lawson : That's organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners?

CHAIR: Yes, that's right. As I understand it from the report, the Uighurs are part of the cohort that are being abused in the most horrendous manner, through organ harvesting, along with Falun Gong practitioners, Tibetans, Christians—the list that I just read out.

Ms Lawson : We are aware of those allegations, but of course we have no way of substantiating them.

CHAIR: Are we still just saying they're allegations? We've got the China Tribunal, UN people and other parliamentary inquiries around the world all coming to the same conclusion. What more evidence does Australia need? Does it need China to say, 'Yes, we're doing it,' before we're willing to accept that these allegations are, in fact, facts?

Ms Lawson : As you know, we have quite significant concerns about human rights practices in China more broadly, not just on this issue, and the government has made these concerns very well known at a very high level on a number of occasions. In the case of Xinjiang, which would go to any concerns about the treatment of the Uighur population, one of the most fundamental things that needs to happen is a visit to Xinjiang by the UN Human Rights Commissioner. The minister has spoken personally to this. We have encouraged such a visit. It's incredibly important that we have the right facts, to try to substantiate any claims but also to make assessments and determinations about what is happening. We continue to ask for that to happen. We've asked privately for the Chinese government to make that happen. The Chinese government has not yet accepted a visit, but we will continue to press for one.

CHAIR: But we unequivocally condemn the practices that are being asserted—genocide, forced labour, organ harvesting?

Ms Lawson : Of course we would be completely opposed to any forced labour and harvesting of organs. We've made that very clear.

CHAIR: And we would condemn that?

Senator Payne: I have raised the prospect of a visit to Xinjiang with the high commissioner in my most recent in-person meeting with her, which was in Geneva in May. That is a consistent position that the government has held.

CHAIR: But have we expressed our condemnation of these practices?

Senator Payne: There are several statements on the record, and I can point you to those.

CHAIR: Of condemnation?

Senator Payne: I don't remember the particular language, but there are several statements on the record, including in this very committee.

CHAIR: And then one assumes that if we condemn these practices we should also be condemning the perpetrators of these practices.

Se nator Payne: We certainly have raised our concerns. In fact, as recently as last week, we participated in a joint statement on Xinjiang. That statement, which was joined by 44 countries, was in relation to these credible reports of severe human rights abuses. What is important is that a further, separate statement was also issued in relation to these matters last week by Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. I think that has also been an important step.

CHAIR: It's a very important development, given that they are—correct me if I'm wrong—Muslim-majority countries.

Senator Payne: That is correct.

CHAIR: It's the first time that they've been so outspoken in this space. ASPI has provided us with an article, The architecture of repression: unpacking Xinjiang's governance. Ms Lawson, are you aware of that article?

Ms Lawson : I am.

CHAIR: There's no reason to doubt any of its content?

Ms Lawson : I think it adds to the body of very credible evidence, which is why we have said on multiple occasions that we feel there are quite egregious human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang.

CHAIR: I understand the language of foreign affairs—that we 'express concern'—but I think that if I or my family were submitted to forced labour, organ harvesting, genocide et cetera I might actually want a freedom-loving country of the world to be able to express more than just 'concern' but to use another word that starts with c-o-n, and that is 'condemn'. But I'll leave that for the record. We've asked about boycotting the 2022 Olympic Games and would commend that to the government for its attention.

I welcome Senator Birmingham, who is a former minister for trade, which might be a nice segue into the trade portfolio. Before doings so, can I say that concludes the committee's examination of the department's non-trade programs. I thank the officers for their attendance. The committee will now move to its examination of the department's trade programs.

 

CHA IR: Let us resume with trade. Is somebody able to assist about strengthening trade and investment between Australia and Israel?

Ms Campbell : We'll just see who we've got. Mr Langman might be able to assist.

CHAIR: And after that manuka honey.

Ms C ampbell : For manuka honey people will be on standby while we get Israel.

CHAIR: Thank you. Would you be able to update the committee on the progress of the department's feasibility study on strengthening trade and investment between Australia and Israel?

Mr Langman : We have provided to the trade minister a study looking at the potential for a trade agreement with Israel. We have engaged with Israel in a preliminary way, and I know the trade minister has discussed how we might best promote our trade and investment linkages. Israel, of course, is a small economy but one that is very focused on high tech, so our sense is there is some real prospect to enhance our collaboration on technology issues. That's pretty much where we are at.

C HAIR: Alright. Are there any barriers that have emerged since Minister Tehan announced he would like to see an Australia-Israel free trade agreement in February this year?

Mr Langman : One of the things that came out of the feasibility study was a sense that—and this is very well-known—Israel of course has sensitivities in the agriculture sector, in particular. In some FTAs, or trade agreements, that it's done in the past it has not provided the sort of access that we would be looking for in any FTA. That would be an issue to work through. There has been some discussion about reform of the agricultural sector in Israel, but that's at a fairly early stage.

CHAIR: Thank you for that update. If I can move to manuka honey. I used to bother this particular minister about it. It's now Minister Tehan's joy to be bothered.

Senator Birmingham: I used to bother some New Zealand counterparts about it at times.

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you for that, Minister. It was much appreciated, but you will be saddened to learn, without much success. But that's not a reflection on yourself, because others have also failed. Ms Duff, is it still the policy not to support or provide financial support for legal costs in pursuing private property rights, which is the answer I got to—it's a nice round number—budget estimates number 100.

Ms Duff : Yes. That remains my understanding. We do not provide that level of support for those kinds of activities.

CHAIR: That's a nice pure position to hold, other than when the other private people are bankrolled by another government to the tune of literally millions of dollars to take their cases in the United Kingdom, here in Australia, and also in New Zealand. Are you aware of the failed case that some New Zealanders took in relation to manuka honey in New South Wales, which they are now appealing to the AAT, and where the beekeeper involved has said 'My finances are now exhausted. I will have to raise the white flag.' Is that acceptable? Especially in circumstances where, in this answer number 100, we are not aware of any other specific examples of a claim being made against a botanical name as opposed to a geographic name. So this is potentially precedent setting. I would have thought it might have excited a bit more government interest and potential funding to ensure that no such precedent was allowed to be established anywhere in the world.

Ms Duff : What I can say is that we continue to monitor the series of ongoing CTM cases very closely internationally. We were able to participate as an observer at the Australian Manuka Honey Association's opposition hearing—

CHAIR: In New Zealand?

Ms Duff : In New Zealand, correct, 6 to 8 October. That was to be held earlier, but it was held over timing-wise because of COVID restrictions. So our high commission in Wellington sought and received approval to attend that. According to the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office a decision is usually issued within around 30 days of a hearing. That decision remains outstanding.

CHAIR: Can I thank Minister Tehan for making the appropriate representations to enable that—not participation but observation by our high commission. I know that producers with whom I met with the minister were most appreciative that that did occur. But observation does not guarantee the outcome. That is where the manuka honey producers here in Australia are becoming exceptionally concerned and their finances are now being exhausted. I can't push it any harder other than, Minister, if you can indicate to your colleague the importance of protecting our manuka honey sector.

Mr Langman : I might just add that, as you have noted, the trade minister has taken up the issue and officials have as well. We have again sought to engage New Zealand and New Zealand producers on the notion that we might work together and that would be in our common interests, the producers both in Australia and New Zealand to work together internationally, including to ensure that manuka honey is not—there isn't competition in the market from other suppliers who are claiming this name. I know that is an issue of concern to the industry.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. With the cooperation it was—I won't say how it came about, but the Australian sector wrote to their counterparts in New Zealand suggesting cooperation, dialogue et cetera, and has been met with no response from them. To their mind and my mind as well that might suggest that they are feeling relatively confident, with a big bank account that they have, that even if they don't win certain cases they might be able to bring the Australian players to the wall and gain victory that way. I think that would be a terrible thing. Given the demand for manuka honey these days, a very simple solution, as I know Minister Birmingham thought at the time as well, was that we just have Australian manuka honey and New Zealand manuka honey and may the best country win on the world scene in relation to that. But that's not good enough for New Zealand. They want to ban us completely from using a term, where we have a lot more of the manuka plant. That's a big question as to where it started, but as I understand it New Zealand didn't even have honeybees, whereas Australia did. So our indigenous population may well have been eating manuka honey which was denied to the Maoris. That's all part and parcel of it. Minister, you want to say something, and then I will hand to Labor.

Senator Birmingham: Thanks, Chair. Indeed, you do go through their part of the very strong case that the Australian industry does have in terms of legitimacy of its claim on the term. That has, as you acknowledge, been endorsed in some proceedings elsewhere around the world. We have certainly put—I personally and I'm sure Mr Tehan subsequently—

CHAIR: He has.

Senator Birmingham: a proposition strongly to New Zealand that this is not in the best interests of either country's industry; that this is a highly regarded and popular product with a growing global market; and it would be in the best interests of both our nations to seek to continue to grow that global market to increase the size of the pie, so that both producers can spread their honey across that, if you wish—a rather bad pun. So, Senator Abetz, that would certainly remain the preference. I am aware in another portfolio area in relation to traceability and such matters that there's been some support, I think from the department of agriculture, for those separate matters to parts of the industry. However, I do appreciate the point that you are making, that very regrettably there appears to have been some funding provided via a means in New Zealand that will create additional pressure in terms of the ability for the Australian industry to continue as it has done to date to successfully defend their claims. I will certainly take the comments you've made and make sure that Mr Tehan, who's probably watching from the splendours of isolation right now, is aware, if he's not tuned in.

CHAIR: And can you talk to the Minister for Finance and see if some money can be made available! Thank you. For what it's worth, we are blessed now with two ministers. I note Senator Duniam is remote. I understand the arrangement is that, if Minister Birmingham seeks to absent himself, Senator Duniam can show his visage, courtesy of technology. Here he comes. Senator Birmingham, you are dismissed should you wish to be so.

Senator Birmingham: Like Manuka honey, short but sweet!

CHAIR: Yes!

Senator Birmingham: The puns are rolling today!

CHAIR: We needed the cabinet minister to deal with my questions! Now it's over to Labor. Senator Ayres, you have the call.

Senator AYRES: I'll just indicate that Labor senators share the chair's concerns over the Manuka honey issue. I don't want to hive off—

CHAIR: Very good!

Senator AYRES: the discussion to later in the trade discussion.

CHAIR: Are you going to wax lyrical about it?

Senator AYRES: No, I think we are all 'beesy' enough.

CHAIR: Very good!

Senator VAN: Buzz off!

Senator AYRES: I think, if the minister wants to win a sort of dad joke competition, I'm going to bring it home.

CHAIR: I think you're right!

Senator AYRES: What I would like to know, Mr Langman, is if there is any modelling being done on the impact on this circa $1.3 billion global industry. I'm told Australia has about a third of the industry. What's the likely impact on Australian producers if we don't succeed in this argument with our friends across the ditch?

Mr Langman : I'm not aware that modelling has been done—

Senator AYRES: So the department hasn't commissioned that kind of work?