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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


CHAIR: I now welcome Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, who has an exceptionally long day ahead of her. Thank you for being agreeable to change the hearing of Foreign Affairs to today, rather than—

Senator Payne: Actually, Chair, I thank you.

CHAIR: I'm not sure you really want to be here, but, anyway, Minister, thank you. Ms Campbell, as the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, welcome as well. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Payne: I do, Chair. And I do want to thank the committee for its flexibility in being able to bring foreign affairs estimates to today and take Defence estimates tomorrow. It does enable me to depart later today for the Munich Security Conference—

CHAIR: At 10pm—is that correct?

Senator Payne: as well as a broader series of international visits. I do appreciate the recognition the committee has extended to the importance of that travel.

Chair, given my absence tomorrow from defence estimates, I do seek the committee's indulgence in allowing me to make a short statement about a former colleague at the Department of Defence, Mr Brendan Sargeant, who died tragically and unexpectedly in an accident over the weekend. Brendan joined the Department of Defence in 1983 as an assistant research officer. His public sector friends and colleagues know that he went on to work in the Attorney-General's Department, in Centrelink and in the Department of Finance and Deregulation, but he came back to Defence in March 2010 as deputy secretary of strategy. He also held the position of deputy secretary of reform and governance, before being appointed associate secretary in March 2013. He held that position until he retired from the department, and from the APS, in July 2018. He also acted as secretary on many occasions.

I worked with Brendan, in his role as associate secretary, for three years as defence minister. He was most recently head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU following his career in Defence. The 2013 white paper—and, really importantly, the First principles review—was principally authored or overseen by Brendan before he left the department.

In their statement, the CDF and the defence department secretary, Greg Moriarty, have observed that his white paper shed new light on changing circumstances in the region, including emerging cyberthreats and the implications of the global financial crisis. In helping lead the first principles review major organisational reform agenda in the department, which I know this committee has concerned itself with on many occasions, he helped to modernise Defence and to position the agency to better contend with today's security threats.

Of the many Australian public servants that I've had the privilege and honour to work with, he was one of the most dedicated, professional and committed individuals you could ever hope to meet—in the classic mould of a traditional public servant. He gave great service to this nation. He was an absolute pleasure to work with. And on behalf of the government, I convey my deepest sympathies to his wife and his daughters. Their loss is enormous, and we are thinking of them.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that very heartfelt condolence message, Minister, and I'm sure I can say on behalf of the committee that the committee echoes those sentiments and extends condolences to the family. Not only is he a loss to his family, but clearly to the nation as well. Secretary, do you have an opening statement?

Ms Campbell : No, Senator, but I'd like to join with the minister in paying our deep respects to Brendan Sargeant and our sympathies to his family. He was the audit chair of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and had continued to serve. We met with him just a few weeks ago in order that we improved our governance across the department, and he remained very committed to serving his nation.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that, Secretary. Just for other senators, these are the plans for the day. The Greens will have a bracket of questions immediately after morning tea, and I'm told that, at morning tea, we'll be provided with a birthday cakes courtesy of Senator Kitching, whose birthday it is today. We will await that cake! I have now put her under pressure with that, but happy birthday, Senator Kitching. Senator Keneally, you have the call.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you very much, Chair. Thank you to the minister and to the department for their attendance today. We've seen the news this morning on Ukraine, and what appears to be something of a withdrawal of troops. Is it possible for the department to give us an update on the current situation in Ukraine?

Ms Campbell : I will just ask Ms Cooper to come to the table.

Senator Payne: I would say, Senator, as Ms Cooper does come to the table, it is very important that verification is obtained of those reports. That is an observation that the NATO Secretary General has made, and the President of the United States. The US Secretary of State has also called for verifiable, credible, meaningful de-escalation, but I am sure Ms Cooper will add to that.

Ms Cooper : Thank you, Minister. We saw those reports, Senator Keneally, this morning. We have had a report out of our embassy in Moscow; our ambassador has sent an assessment. Actually, I shouldn't say 'assessment' because it's a little bit too early to do an assessment, as the minister has pointed out, but it is an encouraging sign that we are hearing those reports. Of course, they are coming out of Russia, so, as the minister has said, we do need to drill down a little bit into that and make an assessment.

The latest assessment of the number of troops along the border is 150,000. We heard President Biden say that just overnight. That's a lot of troops, Senator Keneally, so the capability is clearly there for a full-scale invasion into Ukraine. We're also hearing, though, suggestions that a diplomatic off ramp is still possible, and you will have observed over recent days and weeks multiple efforts to engage with President Putin and Russia in the hope of finding a way to avoid kinetic activity, an invasion of Ukraine, and find a diplomatic pathway. We remain hopeful. There are grounds for very cautious optimism in terms of what we've seen overnight, but we remain deeply concerned about the situation on the Ukrainian border, and we are standing up very strongly in what we say and how we conduct ourselves to say quite clearly that Ukrainian territorial integrity and sovereignty should be inviolable.

Senator KENEALLY: You mentioned there the number of the troops on the border—150,000, according to the US President. My understanding is there are also a number of troops in Crimea. What was the government's assessment of the troop movements, and what other factors led to the decision to close the Australian embassy in Kyiv?

Ms Cooper : That number of 150,000 includes troops in Crimea. That's the number of troops that are amassing, mostly in the north and the east, and in Crimea and around the ports as well, of course. We've been watching this, as have other countries—as has the world—very, very closely, and we've seen the situation ramp up. We've seen more and more troops moving to the region. That's one element of our assessment, but we've had access to other information that has also fed into our assessment—highly classified information, of course, which I am unable to share with you this morning. The other important thing to note is that we're working very closely with our like-mindeds. In fact, the embassy in Kyiv is co-located with the Canadian embassy, which has closed and has moved to Lviv. Our remaining three officers—it's a small embassy, but we have three people there: our ambassador, our deputy and one other—have moved to Lviv, where they continue to be working closely, co-located in fact, with the Canadians.

Senator KENEALLY: I understand that there are 147 Australian citizens, permanent residents and dependents in the Ukraine. Is that number still correct?

Ms Campbell : We might get Mr Maclachlan or one of the consulate people to go through the details, because I know they have changed overnight. I'm not sure whether that's due to people having departed or not. We'll get someone with the expertise to the table.

Mr Maclachlan : The latest figure that I have on the number of Australians registered with us—by which I mean citizens, permanent residents and their family members—is 186. That's slightly lower than the number we briefed some of you in a private briefing yesterday. The reason for that is that we are, happily, seeing a large number of Australians depart Ukraine, as we've urged people to do through successive updates of our travel advice. But we are also, encouragingly, seeing people register with us in the country.

Senator KENEALLY: How does the embassy's closure and relocation impact the department's ability to provide consular assistance, including the issuing of passports?

Mr Maclachlan : To be clear, if I might describe the situation, there are a large number of Australians spread across the country. I won't go into the details of where they are. The team that's relocated to Lviv is in a position to issue travel documents, subject to the requirements of those travel documents having been met. Indeed, I'm aware of at least one case in which they are actually in the process of doing that now.

Senator KENEALLY: So they have the infrastructure and the capability to do that in Lviv?

Mr Maclachlan : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you please provide a brief summary—I acknowledge this is a complex situation—of how the international community and particularly the US and the European states have responded to the situation in Ukraine to date.

Ms Cooper : Certainly. There has been activity in the United Nations. The Security Council has met once on Ukraine; it will meet again There was a statement from the secretary general just on 15 February, urging restraint and encouraging a diplomatic outcome. The NATO countries have been working very, very closely together. As I mentioned earlier, there has been a lot of shuttle diplomacy going on, backwards and forwards, in an effort to find a way forward and find a diplomatic off-ramp for this dispute.

We remain closely engaged with allies and partners and other like-minded countries so that we can be quite united. In fact, all countries should be united in efforts to prevent an incursion of sovereignty. So there's a very strong coordinated and coherent global position urging restraint on the part of Russia and encouraging a diplomatic off-ramp rather than some sort of escalation which could potentially lead to a conflict which could be, of course, extremely serious.

Senator KENEALLY: Can we get some clarity on the UN Security Council, because it's my understanding that they have had a discussion. I understand that China and Russia tried to block that, but it, nonetheless, went ahead. Can you just give us an update on that discussion and the outcome of that.

Ms Coope r : I haven't got that at the table with me, but I can bring back some details of that discussion later.

Ms Campbell : We'll just get that paper. If you want to ask another question, we'll try and answer that while we're getting that paper.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. Thank you, Ms Cooper, for your answer. Similarly, what steps has Australia taken to respond to the situation in Ukraine?

Ms Campbell : Ms Cooper's talked about working with our partners and making sure that the messaging is very clear that this is unacceptable and that, should there be an incursion, sanctions will be applied. So we have worked lock step with our like-mindeds to ensure that the Russians are aware of our very strong views about what is being proposed.

Senator KENEALLY: Have we also provided any support in terms of cybersecurity?

Ms Campbell : Yes. We can ask Dr Feakin—he's our ambassador for cyber—to talk about what engagement he has had, if that would be of use to the committee.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, it would be.

Dr Feakin : Thank you very much for the question. Hopefully I can answer your question sufficiently. I want to let you know that we are well progressed in detailed discussions with our Ukrainian counterparts regarding our proposed meaningful cooperation on cyberissues.

Senator KENEALLY: On 25 January, I think the minister did say that she was asking you to undertake that work. In estimates on Monday, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet confirmed that no additional assistance in terms of cybersecurity has yet been provided to Ukraine since the onset of this crisis. Is that correct?

Dr Feakin : At the moment, it's a live, in-confidence conversation. I can't share the full details because of the in-confidence nature of the discussion between the two countries. But I can reassure you that that is a conversation that has been taking place.

Senator Payne: We're also working with particularly the United States, who are playing what I would describe as a support coordination role for the Ukrainian government, given the number of offers of support that have been forthcoming and the very strong focus of the Ukrainian government on the immediate challenges around the military build-up.

Dr Feakin : That's absolutely right. As Katrina Cooper outlined, the discussions with like-mindeds has extended to cybercooperation as well. And it's true to say that there are a whole range of our like-minded partners who have already provided a great deal of cybersecurity assistance to Ukraine over the past number of years and are looking to now. Again, there's an important job of coordination that's going on to make sure that the Ukrainian system isn't overloaded with offers.

Senator KENEALLY: Dr Feakin, in no way do I want you to provide us with information that is sensitive or confidential in terms of your discussions with the Ukraine, but I do just reflect that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has told the Senate that no additional assistance has been provided since the onset of the crisis. So my question is: is that correct?

Dr Feakin : It is correct, yes, because at the moment we are in that live discussion with the government around what cybersecurity assistance looks like and understanding what Ukrainian requirements are as well.

Senator KENEALLY: You're having the discussions now?

Dr Feakin : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Russian troop build-up has not just sprung out of nowhere; it's been building for months. I'm trying to understand, with respect, if this is a passive approach by government if the request from the Ukraine only came in recent days. From my memory, we heard a couple of weeks ago about providing additional cybersupport to the Ukraine. I believe, in fact, the Minister for Home Affairs spoke about that as well. So I'm trying to understand when did the request first come in, when did we start considering what we could provide and when can we expect that there'll be a decision about what we might provide?

Senator Payne: As I made public, I spoke with Ukraine's foreign minister on 19 January, and it was from that conversation that a discussion around cyber started. However, to note your point about the lead time in terms of these issues, and I'm sure they'll have more to say on this tomorrow, but over the past year Defence has been also providing capacity building training to officials in the area of cybersecurity in Ukraine. So this has been an ongoing engagement. Our offer was as to whether we could add to that activity with the Ukraine. We have had engagements between the ambassador and the Ukrainian charge d'affaires to discuss further cyberassistance, but ultimately identifying what would be useful and valuable to the Ukrainian government is still, as the ambassador said, being discussed.

As I noted in my previous remarks, this is a very challenging time for the Ukrainian government across multiple fronts. That's why the United States in particular has taken a coordinating role on the cyber question. So it is in no way, shape, or form an issue of passivity or anything else. It is a case of working with a partner to determine what might be helpful at a critical time.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. There are, of course, plenty of ways we can demonstrate our solidarity with the Ukraine. Ms Campbell, you spoke about statements; you spoke about sanctions. These are measures that we would take short of military assistance, correct? Has the department provided policy options to the minister in support of Ukraine's sovereignty?

Ms Campbell : Yes, we have provided advice.

Senator KENEALLY: To be clear, diplomatic statements are part of those options. Sanctions—

Ms Campbell : Sanctions, yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Military assistance?

Senator Payne: No, Senator

Ms Campbell : No, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: Ms Campbell, you mentioned targeted sanctions. Presumably like-minded countries, the US and the UK, and if I take their public statements at face value, are also preparing targeted sanctions against Russian entities. Has the department made any sort of assessments on the global supply chain implications of coordinated sanctions against Russia?

Ms Coo per : Just to go back to sanctions and to remind you that we already have 220 sanctions on Russia from the 2014 annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. So we do have an active autonomous sanctions regime.

Senator KENEALLY: I appreciate that, and I think that's been important to get on the record. It's been flagged that targeted sanctions or additional sanctions could be part of our response. There's been much public speculation about the impact on global supply chains, on fuel—fuel shortages and fuel prices—and these are areas that would understandably directly impact the lives of Australians should those consequences occur. What I'm seeking to understand is if the department's made any sort of assessments on what the implications of coordinated sanctions against Russia might be? My follow-on question is: how are you planning to prepare, for example, for possible increased fuel or gas prices?

Ms Cooper : In terms of impacts of sanctions, and I know you'll know this, but for the record, there are very many sorts of sanctions. They can be on individuals, for example, which may have no impact at all. The sanctions that are most likely to have impact are those on financial systems, for example. Assessment of those impacts are part of the assessment of whether or not we should impose sanctions on countries. We do coordinate with other countries on sanctions as well. In terms of impacts on Australia that's obviously not just a DFAT responsibility. You mentioned gas—for example, clearly energy security issues are at stake here. They are discussed by government. That particular issue obviously doesn't sit with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but I can tell you, Senator, that, yes, they are considered and impacts are assessed to feed into recommendations to government as to whether action should be taken.

Senator KENEALLY: Because Australia might be vulnerable to these consequences even if we take no further sanctions.

Ms Cooper : Correct. In terms of gas prices and so on, yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Who does have the lead on this in terms of government? I'm thinking there's the Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism. There's the National Coordination Mechanism that sits within the Department of Home Affairs. I'm trying to understand, when we're thinking about the possible consequences for Australia and Australians, who's got the lead in government? You said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—

Senator Payne: I understand it's on the public record. I think I have seen it reported today. These matters are across the board in relation to Ukraine. They are matters which have been considered at the level of the National Security Committee of cabinet. That includes the relevant ministers in those discussions in relation to industry and resources issues as well.

Senator KENEALLY: Is Home Affairs involved in that? Is the National Coordination Mechanism part of it?

Senator Payne: I can't speak to the National Coordination Mechanism itself, but Home Affairs is of course, given the minister is a standing member of the NSC, part of that, yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, I do note that your colleague the member for Wentworth published an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald in June 2020 where he argued that to manage the rise of China, Russia needed to be brought in from the cold. They were his words. Are you aware of that op-ed?

Senator Payne: Not specifically.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you approve its publication?

Senator Payne: No.

Senator KENEALLY: Did you agree with the member for Wentworth at the time?

Senator Payne: I've just said that I'm not specifically aware of that op-ed. Given the creative juices flow strong and fast amongst members of the government in terms of their publication of opinion pieces, I don't have them all to hand.

CHAIR: We don't need ministerial approval to submit them, unlike elsewhere—

Senator Payne: I find that to be the case, Senator, yes. Given how strongly I advocate on freedom of speech, Senator, that's unsurprising.

CHAIR: Exactly.

Senator KENEALLY: Then may I ask you, Minister: do you agree with the proposition that we need to bring Russia in from the cold in order to manage the rise of China?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to comment on the observations of a particular opinion piece, Senator. What we're dealing with now is obviously an extremely serious matter, a serious issue and a challenge for both security and stability, not just in Europe but, frankly, internationally. I take that very seriously, and I think all of my statements in relation to the Russian escalation and the situation in Ukraine have indicated that.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm asking you to comment not on the particular piece but on the proposition that it put, which is a diplomatic and foreign policy proposition that we need to bring Russia in from the cold.

Senator Payne: That's one view, Senator. I'm not going to comment on it.

Senator KENEALLY: It's not the policy of the government?

Senator Payne: Senator, I don't think you'll see that articulated by a member of the ministry. I certainly have not said that. The Prime Minister has not said that.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. The member for Wentworth also said a G9 configuration was needed—that is, the G7 plus Australia and Russia. Has any work been done within government to progress that idea?

Senator Payne: The status of the G7 as it currently stands is a matter for the G7.

Senator FAWCETT: Dr Feakin, there have been reports just in the last hour or two about a number of cyberattacks that have been shutting down banks, ministries et cetera in Ukraine. Is there any assessment as to whether that's a continuation of what's occurred in recent years, or is that marking a significant escalation?

Dr Feakin : I don't have any official assessment of that particular incident, but absolutely I have read about that incident. To be frank, it follows a pattern of what we've seen in Ukraine over nigh on a decade: persistent cyberactivity in that country, whether it be DDOS attacks or taking down certain parts of infrastructure. There's certainly been a sense that Ukraine at times has been seen as a testing centre for various cyberactivities. So it's deeply disturbing again to see a report of a cyberincident of that scale in Ukraine. It further clouds what is already an incredibly complex and difficult situation for that government to respond to.

Senator Payne: We have seen confirmed this morning also that the Ukrainian defence ministry has confirmed the experience of a cyberattack as well.

Senator KENEALLY: I would also like to ask, in a similar vein, in relation to cyber: is one of the possible consequences for Australia increased cyberattacks in our country? Have you contemplated the risk of ransomware or other cybersecurity issues arising for Australian businesses, government departments and civil society?

Dr Feakin : The official assessments on that front would certainly come from the Australian Signals Directorate and from the Australian Cyber Security Centre. Certainly what I can say, though, in the geopolitical context is that, when we see events going on internationally, it's hard to extrapolate what's going on in the geopolitical sphere and what happens in the cyber sphere. The two are undoubtedly inextricably linked. What I can assure you is that, for CISOs—chief information security officers—whether they are industry or within government, there's always close monitoring of what's going on in the globe in terms of fine-tuning your cybersecurity settings.

Ms Campbell : Senator, I can assure you, from a department perspective, that we are very seized of this challenge, and we are watching our security very carefully at the moment.

Senator KENEALLY: In terms of government, are you aware of any action that's being taken to ensure that government agencies are completing the top four in the essential eight actions that are recommended in order to protect themselves from cybersecurity attacks?

Ms Campbell : Senator, I can talk about DFAT, but that would probably be better asked of either the Digital Transformation Agency or the Australian Signals Directorate, to get a more whole-of-government view. But we are working—

Senator KENEALLY: I think it actually sits with the A-G's, to be fair to DFAT. I'm just seeking to understand whether DFAT, given your awareness of the risks of cybersecurity attacks, are working with those partners in government. What we've seen from the Auditor-General's report is that government agencies are, in fact, pretty slow in adopting the Top Four and the Essential Eight actions to protect themselves against cybersecurity attacks.

Ms Campbell : Within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and more broadly across the portfolio we are very focused on upgrading our systems to ensure that we can achieve that. I am working closely with the COO and the CIO to ensure that the appropriate resources are put into our systems to drive that compliance.

Senator KENEALLY: I might take that up with other agencies, then. It is a concern we've been raising for some time. Minister, as we saw on Monday, the Prime Minister has not yet had a phone call with Ukraine's President Zelenskyy to convey support, nor has he initiated calls with other international counterparts to discuss the situation. Has that situation changed since Monday?

Senator Payne: I have been leading Australia's engagement with both international counterparts and Ukraine. As I would expect it to be, and as you can imagine, President Zelenskyy is absolutely focused on the immediate challenge. Australia has offered its support through my engagement with the Ukrainian foreign minister; DFAT's engagement on multiple occasions with the Ukrainian charge; and the work of our head of mission in Kyiv, now Lviv, including with the deputy foreign minister and other officials, in Ukraine. That is what I would expect to happen.

Senator KENEALLY: We have seen the Pentagon warn of an imminent attack by the Russian forces. We've got 150,000 Russian troops on the border. I appreciate that there have been many statements from the government supporting Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity, but to date we haven't yet supplied any new direct assistance. We haven't put in place any new sanctions. We haven't even had a phone call from the Prime Minister to the president. No-one is suggesting that Australia's actions on the ground are central to these events, but it does appear that these many fine words have yet to be backed up with actual action. It does appear there is some level of passivity to this very real threat to our global peace and security. This could potentially be the first war in Europe since the Second World War.

Senator Payne: I completely disagree with your characterisation.

Senator KENEALLY: Why is there such a passive approach?

Senator Payne: That is absolutely not the case. In fact, the lie is given to that by the engagements that we as a nation have had, including in my conversations with the US Secretary of State, the UK Foreign Secretary, the other members of the quad in their visit here, with the Ukrainian foreign minister himself and with those engagements I spoke about earlier. We have devised and are producing the potential set of sanctions and applications with like-mindeds. That work is being done with the US, the UK and Canada, all of which have sanctions regimes. I stand to be corrected but in the immediate term my understanding is that those countries have not yet moved to apply sanctions in relation to the imminent actions of Russia—perhaps on other issues, but not on the imminent actions of Russia. We are ready to move when those countries move. We also, as you know, met with one of the very interested European partners of Ukraine in Australia last week, in Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis's visit from Lithuania, a country that has also had acute recent experience of actions from an authoritarian regime in relation to its own sovereignty, and, in fact, experiences every day the challenges that Russia presents on their own borders. I'd suggest that it is not the case in any way, shape or form that you could characterise the government's approach as passive.

Senator VAN: Chair, if I may—

Senator KENEALLY: I apologise, this is the Labor senators' time, Senator Van.

CHAIR: But in this committee we're not doing it at 15-minute blocks, like others do.

Senator KENEALLY: That's a lovely tradition.

CHAIR: We have given Labor a fair run, but we do allow, if you like, supplementary questions from other senators. If you have a specific line you want to pursue then we'll have Senator Van ask—

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you, Chair, for your approach. It's refreshing.

CHAIR: We try to be very diplomatic and conciliatory in this committee.

Senator KENEALLY: It's refreshing. Perhaps you might speak to some of your other colleagues about your refreshing, collegial approach.

Senator Payne: I might remind you of that later in the day, Senator!

Senator KENEALLY: I do believe that Senator Kitching has some questions in this vein.

CHAIR: I think Senator Van just has one or two. If we can interpose Senator Van and then Senator Kitching.

Senator KENEALLY: I will allow Senator Van and Senator Kitching.

Senator VAN: As long as we can stay on topic I'm happy.

Senator KENEALLY: I think Senator Kitching has some questions in this vein.

CHAIR: Do you have questions, Senator Van?

Senator VAN: Yes, I do.

CHAIR: Go for it, and then Senator Kitching.

Senator VAN: On that point of specificity, Madam Secretary, that Senator Keneally just raised: an alternative view to the member for Wentworth's is, rather than bringing Russia into the tent, Australia standing up to authoritarian regimes wherever they are in the world, joining with our like-mindeds and pushing back on behaviour that the world would see as unacceptable, encroaching on others borders and challenging their sovereignty. Would that be a fair assessment?

Ms Campbell : I would note that this op-ed, which I haven't seen and I've asked to see a copy of, was written in 2020. There have been significant changes since that time. The government has been very clear on standing up for the sovereignty of nations. That is what is happening in this case with our like-mindeds equally so minded.

Senator VAN: I might also point you to what I wrote last week, which is a little bit more current on this topic. Thank you, Chair. That's all I had.

Senator KITCHING: The UK has laid legislation down of change to their sanctions act. Are we planning on strengthening our Autonomous Sanctions Act as the UK has done? There are businesses, individuals, financial services—it's a broader cross-section.

Ms Cooper : I'm familiar with the UK sanctions and I'm familiar with the changes you're talking about, which essentially go to the sanction of oligarchs. I can certainly say that's under active consideration. Our current sanctions regime is really quite broad already, but we are actively considering whether, as part of our consideration—obviously, it's a decision for government, which is why I'm being cautious here. As a department we have it under active consideration, including the element that you are talking about.

Senator KITCHING: That's good.

Ms Cooper : I can give a rundown of the UN Security Council position if that would be helpful.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, I'd be interested in that.

Ms Cooper : It was a couple of weeks ago, so I had to refresh my memory. It was called for by the United States on 31 January and was held on 1 February. The title of the item was 'threats to international peace and security'. Russia called a procedural vote on whether the meeting should go ahead. There were two votes against, which were Russia and China, but under the UN Security Council rules on procedural votes you need 9 for it to go ahead. There were nine required but there were 10 in support, so it went ahead. The Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, briefed the council. She led the discussion. Belarus, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine participated in that discussion as directly affected states.

In the opening by Under-Secretary DiCarlo she made very clear that there should be no alternative—the comments I made earlier that there should be no alternative to dialogue to find a way to resolve this dispute, and discouraging any sort of aggressive activity. Pretty much all of the countries spoke in favour of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia, as you can expect, spoke in a different way. And Belarus, as I said, that was co-opted, also had some comments around that. I note that the details of those Security Council discussions are not in the public domain, but that gives you a flavour of the discussion and explains, perhaps, why that discussion could go ahead in Security Council. I know there's often an understanding that there is a veto power in the Security Council, but, in terms of this particular discussion, that was able to go ahead if nine of the Security Council members voted in favour. In fact, 10 did.

Senator KITCHING: Is there going to be another meeting like that, anything scheduled?

Ms Cooper : There is something scheduled, but it's not like this. It's something that Russia is comfortable having, and that's around the Minsk agreement. In terms of another discussion of this sort, there's nothing scheduled that I'm aware of. It could well be, though, another discussion in the Security Council and, as I said, we did see a statement overnight from the Secretary-General.

Senator KITCHING: I've got some questions on the bilateral relationship with France. Could I get an assessment of the current state of Australia's relationship with France?

Ms Cooper : Yes. Our relationship with France is an important one for us, obviously. It's an important actor for us. It's a resident power in the Indo-Pacific. We cooperated very recently with France in assistance to Tonga. That was a really positive, combined effort and other countries too, of course. Our ambassador in Paris is meeting regularly with senior people in the French administration to advance our bilateral relations. We do have a program of bilateral relations and a whole plan, which we refer to as AFiniti, with our relationship with France. All of those conversations are ongoing, in terms of how we can implement that plan. It's a very important relationship for us.

Senator KITCHING: A few years ago, this committee did an inquiry into our bilateral relationship with France. We also looked at the—

CHAIR: And it was very well chaired, I might say.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. We looked at our cooperation with France also in the Antarctic, which was very interesting.

Senator Payne: I would say, in addition to the observations that Ms Cooper has made, one of the most effective aspects of the work that we've been doing in the Pacific, in response to the volcanic eruption and tsunami in Tonga, has been through the FRANZ humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism—FRANZ being France, Australia and New Zealand. I'm sure Defence will be able to provide more information tomorrow, in terms of that cooperation. It does include, as I understand it, embedding a French official in our operations command work, in relation to the Tonga response and deployments.

I think that is a reminder to us all of the work that we are able to do in addition to, for example, the Kiwa Initiative. This is France led but a multi-donor activity, in which we participate, about strengthening climate change resilience in the Pacific through biodiversity conservation for Pacific island ecosystems, communities and economies. That work is ongoing and, I think, very welcomed in the Pacific. The Tonga response, in particular, has really reinforced that.

Senator KITCHING: Are there plans for more alliances with France?

Senator Payne: AFiniti itself has a very significant breadth. I'm happy to ask Ms Cooper to go into more details on that. I don't have a copy of the work plan here with me, but it is a project of very significant breadth. We certainly intend to continue with that but also to grow that where we can.

Ms Cooper : I'd ask Lynette Wood, who works for me and who is principally responsible for implementing all those projects, to talk in much more detail. But it is a really comprehensive package of work that we are doing with France that spans across the political, economic, military and cultural. And it's not a one-off; it's a longstanding program and deals with all aspects of our bilateral relationship but of course with an emphasis on how we work with France in the Indo-Pacific.

Ms Wood : To add to the comments that my colleagues have made, AFiniti was first agreed in 2018, as I think you're also aware, and last year there was an update on implementation of AFiniti that foreign ministers presented to leaders. The update set out expectations for projects that will lead into the future. It has a number of pillars, and under each pillar there's a range of activities. Pillar 1 is building security, pillar 2 is strengthening resilience and pillar 3 is embracing opportunity. I chaired a meeting with colleagues across government last week. It involves activities right across government, as has been referred to—everything from the environment area to culture to science and research to defence cooperation and projects such as bushfire management in the Pacific, as my colleagues have already outlined, and cyber. So, it's a very wide-ranging document, and it gives us a road map into the future.

Senator KITCHING: Was there a timetable for activities or projects under that agreement? Were any accelerated due to the future subs program finishing?

Ms Wood : AFiniti is an ongoing project. When foreign ministers presented their stocktake to leaders last year and added additional projects into the mix, there was the expectation that this would be implemented by the end of 2023, I understand. That was the purpose for my getting colleagues together recently, so that we have a sense of momentum and are continuing to implement those projects.

Senator KITCHING: So, there was no acceleration of anything, because we were looking for opportunities to have other areas where we could have a relationship with France after the future subs program was cancelled?

Senator Payne: We will also seek to do that, and Ms Wood has been leading some very important work, both in the implementation of AFiniti and more broadly. But it does give us a very sound basis for the cooperation. I think we've done two reports to leaders, if I remember correctly. And it gives us the opportunity to reinforce those partnerships in the region. It has come about most recently through a devastating natural disaster, but it does remind us of how particularly important those Pacific relationships are.

Senator KITCHING: Is the update public? Can you table—

Senator Payne: It's a report to leaders. I'm not sure whether it is public, but let me see what it is possible to make public.

Senator KITCHING: Lovely. Thank you. That would be great. Minister, when you go to Paris—and I'm very jealous that you're going to Paris!—will you meet with the French foreign minister? Is that one of your appointments?

Senator Payne: The French foreign minister is chairing the EU Indo-Pacific meeting that I am attending, and we are working through bilateral commitments at this point in time—literally at this point in time; I'm still working through those, so they're not settled yet.

Senator KITCHING: Will you have a one-on-one meeting—

Senator Payne: They're not settled yet.

Senator KITCHING: The ambassador's met with whom in the French government?

Senator Payne: We'd have to take that on notice but are happy to provide you with a response on that. She certainly presented her credentials to the President in December, at the Elysee.

Ms Cooper : That was on 2 November, for the record.

Senator Payne: In November.

Senator KITCHING: Was there any discussion there of the Future Submarine Program?

Senator Payne: Not that I'm aware of, but, again, we'll take this on notice.

Senator KITCHING: On 28 October, so only a few days before the ambassador presented her credentials, the Elysee Palace said:

It is now up to the Australian Government to propose tangible actions that embody the political will of Australia's highest authorities to redefine the basis of our bilateral relationship and continue joint action in the Indo-Pacific.

Has the department or the government offered any initiatives to improve the relationship?

Senator Payne: That's the sort of work I'm referring to, that Ms Wood is doing—meetings in Canberra and in Paris with French officials. I have met with the ambassador, as I think is on the public record. I met with him again in the last week. Those discussions continue, and it is about building on that existing extensive cooperation.

Senator KITCHING: Is there any new funding that has been allocated to the initiative that Ms Wood was discussing? Is there any new funding for any of those projects?

Senator Payne: I don't think it's a case of funding allocations at this point in time, but if that is a matter which we think needs to be addressed over and above what is already within the affinity envelope then we would certainly consider that.

Senator KITCHING: And any additional staff?

Senator Payne: I don't think so. I think our Europe team and the focus on France is very strong in the normal work of the agency.

Senator KITCHING: Have France suggested any projects they would like to see?

Senator Payne: In terms of going into the detail of the bilateral discussions, I wouldn't normally do that on the public record, but we're certainly working collaboratively, across government here and with appropriate counterparts, on the work that Ms Wood is doing.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you, because I do remember from our inquiry that there was interest in the Antarctic and having a further developed relationship there, given—

Senator Payne: Given the history.

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Senator Payne: It's very strong between Australia and France.

Senator KITCHING: I want to ask you about meeting with foreign minister Le Drian. That's still being settled. If you met with him, would you also meet with the defence minister? Do you have an idea of what meetings you would like to have?

Senator Payne: The last time I saw a report of defence minister Parly she was actually in Indonesia, which was a very welcome visit to the region. I'm not sure what her program is. I would not normally and necessarily do that. It very much depends on the schedule. The Munich Security Conference has a large agenda with a number of existing commitments, commitments that I already have, and, as I said, we are working with multiple counterparts on what the bilateral program looks like.

Senator KITCHING: What other countries—and I'm happy for a list to be provided later on in the day—have been invited to the forum?

Senator Payne: The EU Indo-Pacific forum?

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Senator Payne: We'll take that on notice. It's a large group, and we will provide that on notice. It's not our invitation of course.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, that's right. Can I go to the text message from the President of France to the Australian Prime Minister on 16 September that was published in the Daily Telegraph:

The Daily Telegraph also understands that two days before the AUKUS arrangement was announced, Mr Macron messaged Mr Morrison to say that he was not available at the time Australia was seeking a call and instead asked: "Should I expect good or bad news for our joint submarines ambitions?"

Did the Prime Minister authorise the leak of a text message to him from the President of France?

Senator Payne: As I understand it, this was discussed extensively at PM&C estimates on Monday, and I have nothing to add to that.

Senator AYRES: We thought you might be more straightforward than Minister Birmingham.

CHAIR: I'm sure that was a comment. Let's get back to the—

Senator Payne: I think Minister Birmingham is extremely straightforward as a finance minister; I always find him very clear.

Senator KITCHING: I think he's coming tomorrow.

Senator Payne: He is, I believe.

Senator KITCHING: When did you become aware that a private text message from President Macron had been leaked to Australian journalists?

Senator Payne: I would have to check—I have to recall, but my understanding is through media. My recollection is that it was through media.

Senator KITCHING: You learned of it through the DailyTelegraph article.

Senator Payne: I couldn't specifically say, but I think through media.

Senator KITCHING: Did you have discussions with anyone in the PMO?

Senator Payne: I don't recall where I was at the time. I think I was travelling or in quarantine—one or the other—and I'm not sure I was in a position to do that.

Senator KITCHING: Could I ask, Secretary, when you became aware of a private text message from President Macron that had been leaked?

Ms Campbell : Via the media, Senator.

Senator KITCHING: When?

Ms Campbell : I found out when the media reported it.

Senator KITCHING: So no-one phoned you the night before?

Ms Campbell : No.

Senator KITCHING: Did anyone in the PMO discuss the leaking of the text message with you?

Ms Campbell : No.

Senator KITCHING: On 4 February this year the Prime Minister's Office rejected a freedom of information request to release all of the text messages between the Prime Minister and President Macron. This rejection is on the basis that the disclosure 'would or could reasonably be expected to cause damage to Australia's international relations'. If there's an acknowledgement that that's the basis on which the freedom of information request was rejected, have you made an assessment that there is damage to the relationship?

Senator Payne: Officials can respond as well, but I would say, given they make FOI decisions, that that category—that description—in relation to FOI applications to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is a category of standard use. It has appeared across multiple FOIs that I have observed in the past three years, and in fact preceding that in relation to FOIs requested through the Department of Defence. I know officials who run our FOI system make very robust decisions and I have no further comment to make on the PM&C decision, whether it was a PMO or PM&C decision. I do know that that category is one that I have seen used on countless occasions.

CHAIR: Could I just ask the minister in relation to that category: it is not only the potential content which is a matter of concern, or which is damaging to our relationship, but if world leaders get to know that any text message to or from our Prime Minister might become available under FOI for public gaze then that sort of communication, one suspects, would stop very quickly. That form of diplomatic channel would be stopped or closed.

Senator Payne: I note that observation.

Ms Campbell : We were not involved with that decision, so I can't clarify that any further, but the comments by both the minister and the chair are accurate about how we would consider such matters.

Senator KITCHING: The second reason provided by Mr Morrison's office for declining the FOI request was that the texts 'contained information that was communicated in confidence by the head of state of a foreign government to the Prime Minister'. The text exchange was confidential.

Ms Campbell : Again, I'm not aware of the details of this matter and I have read like you have.

Senator KITCHING: They were confidential, but one was leaked?

Senator Payne: I think that's a statement, Senator.

Senator KITCHING: A close adviser to President Macron told a French newspaper, 'disclosing a text message exchange between heads of state or government is a pretty crude and unconventional tactic' Would you agree, Secretary, that leaking private correspondence with an international counterpart is unconventional?

Ms Campbell : I see from the information on the FOI that, because they chose to use the national security criteria for not releasing the information, as we have discussed, that sort of information has the potential to impact on international relationships.

CHAIR: And calling somebody a liar would be a pretty crude and unconventional tactic as well, I'm sure you would agree, Senator Kitching.

Senator KITCHING: Would you say that the leaking of a text message has weakened Australia's relations with France?

Ms Campbell : Senator, we're working very closely with our French counterparts to ensure that the bilateral relationship remains strong. I think both Ms Cooper and Ms Wood have outlined some of those initiatives that we have taken. We are very engaged with our counterparts, looking to continue the strength of this relationship because of the importance of France in the Indo-Pacific, and we've seen that demonstrated in response to the Tonga situation. I am very focused on us moving forward and working with our counterparts to ensure that both nations are able to ensure peace and prosperity, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, and that's where our focus is.

Senator KITCHING: And there have been no expressions of concern from other heads of state that a text message from President Macron had been leaked?

M s Campbell : There's been no discussion with me about that matter.

Senator KITCHING: Minister? So, there hasn't been any discussion from other heads of state expressing concern about a leaked text message?

Senator Payne: Not to my awareness, Senator.

Senator AYRES: I have some questions about COP26 and the Prime Minister's attendance. Mr Isbister, can you confirm for the committee that during COP26 Australia did not submit a new emissions reduction target for 2030?

Mr Isbister : Australia did submit a new NDC, but it didn't include an update on the 2030 target.

Senator AYRES: So, despite all of the Prime Minister's rhetoric at the conference, we essentially took former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's 2030 emissions reduction target to COP26, didn't we?

Mr Isbister : As I said, we submitted a new NDC and it included a 2015 at zero target. It also included a range of quite significant targets on what we would achieve on seven low-emissions technologies that are going to be critical in terms of what Australia is going to need to do to deliver on that net zero target but reduce emissions over the next decade and, obviously, equally importantly, how that's going to have to work with other countries, to support their efforts to accelerate. However, the government have been clear that the 2030 target was set. It included it in the NDC, and we did communicate quite clearly, as the Prime Minister had, that our current projections had us on track to get to the 35 per cent reduction from our 2005 levels and the government's focus was on how we were going to continue to exceed on that.

Senator AYRES: But those are projections, aren't they? Nobody sensibly regards those as targets.

Senator Payne: Senator, I think Australia's record, particularly concerning our exceeding of our Kyoto 1 and 2 targets, and we have some of the best data—I think data is the right word, but Mr Isbister will correct me if I'm wrong—in terms of the analysis that we do here of our emissions. Those projections, as he said, will see Australia achieve up to a 35 per cent reduction by 2030. I think it is very important that Australia advances that proposition, and, to that end, it's why we included that and continue to include that in our engagements at COP26. Just yesterday, Senator, we signed a new and renewable energy technology letter of intent with the Indian government, between Minister Taylor and his Indian counterpart. This is ongoing work for this government to pursue these emissions reduction achievements.

Senator AYRES: Well, precision is important, isn't it, when we're discussing these things?

Senator Payne: That is why I've talked about data, Senator.

Senator AYRES: Projections are not the same as a target.

Senator Payne: Well, that is an interesting debating point, actually, and we could spend a very long time talking about how precise a target is as opposed to an achievement. And an achievement is what we have on the record in relation to Kyoto 1 and 2, for example.

Senator AYRES: There is no difference between the position that Australia took under Prime Minister Abbott, in terms of our 2030 target, and the position that Prime Minister Morrison took to COP26.

Senator Payne: That is categorically wrong, Senator, because the position that Mr Abbott was able to take was in relation to the target and the projections as they sat then. The position that Prime Minister Morrison has been able to take is one which notes that our projections to 2030 will see Australia achieve up to a 35 per cent reduction by 2030. They are qualitatively different, and that is because of time: the targets taken by Prime Minister Abbott during his term between 2013 and 2015, and then the targets taken in 2021. Of course the projections are different.

Senator AYRES: There's a credibility problem for Australia here, isn't there?

Senator Payne: No, Senator.

Senator AYRES: The United Kingdom submitted its own glossy pamphlet to the conference—

Senator Payne: And the United Kingdom welcomed our commitments at COP26. I know that's probably inconvenient for you, but Prime Minister Johnson welcomed our commitments at COP26.

Senator AYRES: The assertion that the government—

Senator Payne: You don't want to talk about that?

Senator AYRES: The assertion that the government of the United Kingdom made was that 153 other countries submitted new 2030 reduction targets for COP26. I am going to ask you to provide that list on notice, but Australia is not one of those 153 countries, is it?

Mr Isbister : Senator, I think what you're referring to is the document that the UK put out that sort of summarised their elements. I think the latest figure is actually 155 countries that submitted new NDCs. Australia is one of those countries. The number of countries that included increases on their headline target was around 91 of those 155. Those new NDCs, obviously, reflect a whole range of elements around what countries are going to do and continue to do over this decade and over the next decades under the Paris agreement. And, obviously, as said, the government did bring the 2050 net zero commitment; we outlined significant ambitious technology targets, not only with cost points but also with the date ranges; and we also committed and announced, as part of our broader packages, a doubling of our climate financing commitment.

Senator AYRES: So let me understand this properly. Is it the government's position that we took a new 2030 target to COP26?

Senator Payne: No. I said, Senator, and so did Mr Isbister, that we had a fixed 2030 target, which this government took to the election in 2019, and we took that 2030 target and our latest emissions projections that will see Australia achieve up to a 35 per cent reduction by 2030. And, frankly, our record between 2005 and 2021 of over 20 per cent reduction is more than double the OECD average and is an achievement that is, clearly and squarely, on the record.

Senator AYRES: So there was no new target at COP26 for 2030?

Senator Payne: Senator, I don't know if the standing orders here apply to tedious repetition, but, at the risk of breaching them myself by saying the same thing again—

Senator AYRE S: I think we've both done it already, Minister.

Senator Payne: To you, let me say that we have a fixed 2030 target. What we have been able to do is to take the latest emissions projections to 2030 that will see Australia achieve up to a 35 per cent reduction by 2030. Also our record between 2005 and 2021 tells us there is a 20 per cent emissions reduction as an achievement, as an outcome, which quite clearly speaks to the pathway that these projections represent.

Senator AYRES: Can you at least confirm for me that at the conclusion of COP26 Australia adopted the Glasgow climate pact?

Mr Isbister : Yes, Australia adopted, as all other countries did with the Paris Agreement, to sign the pact.

Senator AYRES: So the Morrison-Joyce government agreed to the pact. That's correct, isn't it?

Mr Isbister : The Australian government agreed to the Glasgow climate pact.

Senator AYRES: Minister, how's that consistent with the Deputy Prime Minister's claim on 15 November that the National Party hadn't signed the pact and that he, as Deputy Prime Minister, hadn't signed it.

Senator Payne: Well, Australia has supported the Glasgow climate pact.

Senator AYRES: It's not the first time that Mr Joyce would be wrong, I suppose.

CHAIR: Unlike yourself!

Senator Payne: Again, that could take us down a very, very windy path, if we want to choose who we think is wrong on each other's side of politics. I don't particularly want to do that today, but, if you wish, we can. We can talk about Mr Fitzgibbon for a while if you take, a fellow New South Wales member of parliament. I'd be happy to do that.

Senator AYRES: I'm asking a specific question about whether Mr Joyce's assertion is correct.

Senator Payne: I'm advising you, Senator, as Mr Isbister has correctly advised you, that Australia supports the Glasgow climate pact. We have also been very clear in commending the UK in their presidency for being able to secure agreement amongst all parties on what are very complex issues, and our advocacy throughout COP26 included the importance of turning negotiation and commitments into action, which is why we are making particularly the low emissions technology agreements that we are making across the globe with Japan, Germany, Indonesia—Mr Isbister will help me if I can't remember the others.

Mr Isbister : Korea and the UK, Vietnam.

Senator Payne: Korea, the UK and Vietnam. We advocated for the completion of the Paris Rulebook, including the transparency framework and the rules for international carbon markets. Mr Isbister, Minister Taylor, the Prime Minister and the team were very strong participants.

Senator AYRES: I'm grateful for you being clear about Australia having signed up to the pact despite the Deputy Prime Minister trying to slide out of it. Was the Deputy Prime Minister consulted on the draft text of the pact? If he was, when was the Deputy Prime Minister's office consulted about the draft?

Senator Payne: As you know, these matters were, as is widely reported, the subject of cabinet discussions. I'm not going to go into the details of those.

Senator AYRES: You can't tell me whether the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia was consulted on the draft text.

Senator Payne: The Deputy Prime Minister is a member of the cabinet.

Senator AYRES: Yes.

Senator Payne: Thank you.

Senator AYRES: Did his office provide any feedback?

Senator Payne: Senator, I just indicated to you that it is not my practice, and it has never been my practice, to go into the details of cabinet discussions, and I don't intend to change it today.

Senator AYRES: So you won't tell me whether the Deputy Prime Minister agreed that Australia should sign up to the pact.

Senator Payne: I have said—in fact, I've gone further than I usually do—this matter was the subject of extensive cabinet discussion, as you would expect it to be. The Deputy Prime Minister is a member of the cabinet.

Senator AYRES: The document, I think at article 28, urges:

Parties that have not yet communicated new or updated nationally determined contributions to do so as soon as possible in advance of the fourth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement.

Can you confirm, Mr Isbister, that work is going on for the Morrison-Joyce government to update its nationally determined contribution in the lead up to COP27?

Mr Isbister : The wording in the Glasgow pact, or in the CMA, the Paris Agreement element of it, was to 'revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their NDCs as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances'. Australia did update our NDC before Glasgow, as we've discussed and outlined. The government is committed to continuing to provide and update an annual low emissions technology statement that looks at how we continue to accelerate and deliver on that ambition to reduce emissions not just in Australia but also with other countries. I think Minister Payne referred to a number of those partnerships that Australia has agreed and signed up to. That focus is going to be how we continue to deliver on that and bring that practical ambition to COP27 in Cairo.

Senator AYRES: So we are updating our nationally determined contribution.

Mr Isbister : A decision of whether or not the government's going to update its NDC will be a decision by government in the future, but, as I said, the government's been clear that it's 2030 target has been set, and it took that to the election, and our focus now is how we're going to continue to utilise technology, international partnerships and engagement with private sector to accelerate that ambition.

Senator AYRES: This distinction between projection and target is very politically useful, isn't it, Minister? It allows slippage between these two quite distinct concepts.

CHAIR: I'm not sure it's fair to ask an official that. You might ask a minister.

Senator Payne: He asked me.

Senator AYRES: I just did.

CHAIR: Oh, right.

Senator Payne: I will take that as a comment.

Senator AYRES: Well, it was a question.

Senator Payne: And I'm taking it as a comment.

Senator AYRES: The intention, if we're precise about this, is that seven years after Mr Abbott's policy was announced we're going to Egypt for COP27 with Tony Abbott's 2030 emissions targets.

Senator Payne: No—and your precision is an interesting thing. I don't know whether you think Mr Fitzgibbon was being precise when he said after 14 years of trying the Labor hasn't made one contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in this country. That's what he said in November last year. What Mr Isbister has indicated is that our work for COP27 will include our ambitious low emissions technology stretch goals. They are reflected in our NDC—on clean hydrogen, on ultra-low cost solar, on low emissions material, on energy storage, on carbon capture and storage and on soil carbon measurement. The focus, as I understand it, of the African presidency of COP27 in Egypt is very much on adaptation. So we will also, with the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work program on the global goal adaptation in the lead up to the global stocktake in 2023, be part of those strong discussions as well.

Senator AYRES: Article 29 says—I'm sure you're familiar with it, Mr Isbister:

… requests Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances.

By the Morrison-Joyce government signing up to the pact—I just want to be clear about the implication of this—we've agreed to revisit and strengthen our 2030 target. That is correct, isn't it?

Mr Isbister : As I said, I think the agreement is clearly encouraging countries to continue to bring forward at subsequent COPs greater ambition on a range of elements, including, as you rightly say, in 2030. I think what the government's committed to is coming to COP27, to Cairo, demonstrating greater ambition and greater focus on reducing emissions in Australia and globally over the next decade. As mentioned, Australia has released its second low emissions technology statement. It is looking at, under Alan Finkel's chair, releasing that annually. That process is looking at how we continue to review and identify those technologies that the minister went through. They're going to deliver that greater ambition. The focus is how we come to Cairo to demonstrate what we're achieving, what that means in emissions reductions, what further international partnerships we're going to commit to and sign on to. I think the minister went through seven or eight of those, but also under the Quad there's a very strong climate working group that's looking at how India, Japan, the US and Australia can work together to deliver on those emphases. The Prime Minister announced that in June Australia will be hosting a clean energy supply chain forum that is focused around how we're going to work with other countries to get those supply chains, those investments and that research that's going to be critical to reducing emissions. That's the intent: to be coming to COP with the commitments and the practical actions to be able to reduce emissions.

Senator AYRES: Minister, why then on 14 November did you feel it necessary, with Minister Taylor, to issue a statement that says, 'Australia's 2030 target is fixed'?

Senator Payne: I have said that this morning as well, Senator. We took the 2030 target to an election.

Senator AYRES: So why are you trying to suggest that the nationally determined contribution is a target? They're quite different things, aren't they? There's an enormous gap between the projections that we have taken to the international community in our nationally determined contribution and the target—Tony Abbott's target—which, as you say, is fixed.

Senator Payne: It sounds to me like we're speaking at cross purposes. I think I've made the government's position perfectly clear, in response to your questions. I have provided a consistent answer in response to your questions.

Senator AYRES: Did any of the Prime Minister's international counterparts raise concerns about the government's climate policies, and our conduct in relation to those, in the lead up to Glasgow?

Mr Isbister : In the lead up to Glasgow and at Glasgow we engaged with a wide range of different parties. We did consultations, obviously, with all of our Pacific partners, with like-mindeds, with the UK as the presidency. As I said, Glasgow and COP26 was focused on a whole range of different elements of demonstrating action on climate around climate financing, around practical commitments to demonstrate that, around 2050 net zero targets and around 2030 targets. In those discussions, absolutely, there were discussions about how we were keen to see greater ambition on different elements. There were requests that Australia, as flagged before, would look at how we would release a long-term strategy and a 2050 net zero commitment, which the government took—and, yes, how we continue to accelerate and commit to greater ambition over the next decade.

Senator AYRES: Did President Biden raise concerns about the position that Australia had adopted?

Mr Isbister : I know the US certainly asked Australia to look at bringing greater ambition to its 2030 target.

Senator AYRES: Did Prime Minister Johnson? He did the same thing, essentially, didn't he?

Senator Payne: As Mr Isbister has alluded to, we had multiple discussions with counterparts. I myself met with Secretary Kerry twice, if not three times, in the year proceeding the COP26. I have obviously discussed the issues with counterparts across the globe.

Senator A YRES: I am not asking about those. I asked Mr Isbister whether the government of the United States and President Biden raised concerns about our position, and he's acknowledged, as is clear publicly, that they did. I'm asking now whether Prime Minister Johnson did the same thing. I'll come to some of the other countries in a moment, if necessary. But did Prime Minister Johnson raise concerns with the Australian government in the same way as has been reported publicly?

Senator Payne: Senator, I know that, as I have, the Prime Minister has discussed the challenges of climate change with international partners around the globe. There is no secret about those discussions, and I'm sure that they will continue. It is not simply a question, as you would assert, of seeking further Australian contributions but it is, in fact, a global discussion about initiatives that we, for example, are taking in the Pacific and in South-East Asia, and there are our own initiatives in relation to our low-emissions technology, which is reflected in the partnerships that we've already signed.

Senator AYRES: In the interests of precision, which we've had some discussion about, Chair, I would like a list of all the bilateral meetings that the Prime Minister had at Glasgow. Perhaps, if possible, that could be provided later on during the day. I see that it's 10.30, so I'll bring that line of questioning to a close there.

CHAIR: That question is being taken on notice. The committee will now suspend until 10:45.

Senator Payne: Chair, I would say that that should have been done through PM&C, but we will seek that through them.

Proceedings suspended from 10:30 to 10:45

CHAIR: The committee is resumed. Senator Faruqi, you have the call.

Senator FARUQI: In relation to Tonga, how much has Australia contributed in terms of funding, supplies and equipment so far and what else is to come?

Senator Payne: Senator, I'll ask the officials to go into the details with you, but in the last month, we have obviously been working very hard with partners, but most particularly with our partner the Tongan government, in the challenge that they are addressing following the volcanic eruption and tsunami. The department has engaged closely with the High Commission here. I've spoken with the high commissioner myself, and our ambassador has been strongly engaged in Nuku'alofa and more broadly. I mentioned earlier this morning when you were not here, the engagement of France, Australia and New Zealand in the FRANZ humanitarian assistance and disaster mechanism. But I think it is important to say that, given the spread of islands in the nation of Tonga, those assessments are ongoing. I won't describe it as a 'work in progress'; that's not appropriate. It is a piece of work where the Tongan government will advise us of their needs. As they do that, we will work with partners to respond, and the contributions will flow through that partnership. I'll ask—

Senator FARUQI: Can I just ask: what has the monetary contribution been to date, including everything?

Senator Payne: Yes, I was just trying to explain its context.

Mr McDonald : We've contributed $3 million so far in humanitarian contribution through the aid program. Of course, there has been a lot more provided through the Defence Force in terms of the assets that have been provided into the region, with HMASAdelaideand with numerous flights into the region, for surveillance, for delivery of humanitarian aid and also in relation to COVID, in terms of the outbreak and preparation.

Senator FARUQI: And there's no monetary figure apart from $300 million?

Mr McDonald : Three million.

Senator FARUQI: Sorry, $3 million.

Mr McDonald : Of course, we've also used our bilateral program that we have in Tonga. In terms of the minister's earlier comments, I think it's important to note that Tonga have led this response, and done it extremely well, and we've responded to all their requests.

Senator FARUQI: Just going to HMAS Adelaide and the delivery, I know that there have been issues obviously with COVID and with the power failures. Have we now been able to deliver all the required supplies on the ship?

Mr McDonald : Yes, we've delivered a lot of things on the ship. I can take you through that, if you wish, Senator?

Senator FARUQI: How much of the aid on the ship has been delivered, as a percentage?

Mr McDonald : It's all been delivered. It's done in a non-contact way. The protocols around the delivery were agreed with the Tongan government. Each day, we have a whole-of-government IDC that I chair that works out the priorities across the government, and we've delivered all of that consistent with the Tongan government under their guidance,

Senator FARUQI: Is there another ship on the way?

Mr McDonald : Yes, there is.

Senator Payne: HMAS Canberra, and HMAS Canberra will take construction supplies. It is departing later this week, as I understand it. Defence can speak more to that tomorrow. But it is important to note that on HMAS Adelaide are members of the Fijian RFMF, also deployed in supporting Tonga as part of the Pacific response.

Senator FARUQI: Minister, I just want to confirm that you said that anything over and above the $3 million that has already been provided will be discussed in future with the Tongan government.

Senator Payne: Absolutely, yes, and our ongoing programs—for example, Australia and New Zealand have the responsibility for the reconstruction of the Tonga parliament house, which was destroyed in a previous cyclone, if I recall correctly—will obviously also continue.

Mr McDonald : In that vein, PNG are also looking at what they can do. Today I think FSM also contributed about US$100,000.

Senator FARUQI: Thank you. I'm tight with time, so I might move on to other questions. I have a few questions about the latest Pacific practice note, which talks about women's economic participation and basically says that it will not automatically lead to empowerment and economic equality and makes several recommendations to address women's empowerment. Have you read that report and responded to it?

Mr McDonald : Can you be more specific on the report?

Senator FARUQI: It's the latest Pacific practice note, which we have periodically.

Mr McDonald : I have not seen it.

Ms Campbell : We're just trying to work out who the author is.

Senator F ARUQI: I'm not sure who the author is. It's the WEE program, Women's Economic Empowerment program, note. I'll just put them on notice then, if you haven't looked at it, because I think the recommendations that they are making are really important.

Senat or Payne: Are you saying that's a DFAT document?

Senator FARUQI: It's not a DFAT document. It's an Australian aid document.

Senator Payne: We'll have a look at that and we'll come back to you. I'd also like to provide on notice the details of the engagement of the 14 RAAF flights, the aerial surveillance et cetera. We'll provide that to you on notice.

Senator FARUQI: That would be good. I want to go to the $500 million climate finance pledged by the government at COP26. Will this be new and additional funding to Australia's existing ODA budget or is it based on reallocations of the existing budget?

Mr Isbister : The new announcement was of $2 billion, which was a doubling of the previous commitment we'd had over 2015-20. Nearly all but not all of the money will come within the ODA program. It will be driven by, particularly, how we're supporting a much stronger focus on climate change through our bilateral regional programs. It will include some new initiatives. A number of them are already in place in terms of how we partner and work with the private sector.

Senator FARUQI: Sorry; I just wanted to know if this $500 million that was announced was new funding or existing funding. Did you say that not all of it is coming from the ODA budget?

Mr Isbister : The majority will come from the ODA budget.

Senator FARUQI: How much is coming from ODA and how much isn't?

Mr Isbister : In the last year the commitment was 346. There was $3 million of that that was outside the ODA budget, so the majority—

Senator FARUQI: So most of it is outside?

Mr Isbister : Most of it, yes.

Senator FARUQI: Is the funding 100 per cent grant based or is it loans as well?

Mr Isbister : The majority of it is grant based, though we are increasingly, through a range of initiatives, looking at how we're using some non-grant mechanisms to engage and partner with the private sector, particularly in investments that can accelerate the uptake of renewables, low-emissions technologies, but also some nature based solutions partnerships such as marine coastlines, blue carbon et cetera.

Senator FARUQI: If 100 per cent is not grant based, what percentage is grant based and what percentage is loans?

Mr Isbister : I do have to take the exact percentage on notice.

Senator FARUQI: If you could.

Mr Isbister : Each year it changes as well, so we do the final accounting of how our climate financing is flowing and the elements at the end of the financial year. But I'd have to take on notice what it would have been in the last financial year.

Senator FARUQI: On the $300 million that you said isn't from ODA, what budget is it coming from?

Mr Isbister : The majority of it is from the additional one-off budget measures, including how some of that's flown in the Pacific.

Senator FARUQI: One-off—sorry?

Mr Isbister : The additional one-off budget measures that were made for the Pacific and elsewhere.

Senator FARUQI: Thanks very much. I think my time is up. Over to you, Senator Whish-Wilson.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: The DFATAnnual Report 2014-2015 says there was a Great Barrier Reef Taskforce that worked 'to ensure there was a strong understanding of Australia's work to protect the reef by committee members'. Given all the activity that we've seen, going back at least six months, with Minister Ley's trip to Europe to lobby the World Heritage Committee to vote against an endangered listing, has DFAT re-established that task force or any similar structure?

Mr Isbister : No, there's not currently a Great Barrier Reef task force within DFAT. As you'd probably know, the Department for Agriculture, Water and the Environment is a lead on the Great Barrier Reef and much of the engagement with the World Heritage Centre, though DFAT certainly has and continues to support DAWE in engagement and dialogue with World Heritage Committee members, not just on the Great Barrier Reef but obviously on all of our World Heritage properties.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: If it hasn't been reconstituted, who within DFAT is primarily responsible or dedicated to coordinating your efforts to help lobby World Heritage Committee countries to vote against an endangered listing for the Great Barrier Reef?

Ms Klugman : That function sits within my group and specifically under Jamie Isbister's division.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Can you tell us what your primary tasks have been? I've noticed a number of Australia's ambassadors are taking to social media—Twitter, Instagram and Facebook—with very positive messages about the health and future of the Great Barrier Reef and the government's commitment. Who's responsible for coordinating those activities? Is that done at the level of each ambassador's office or out of your office?

Ms Klugman : The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supports DAWE, which, as Mr Isbister just said, is a lead agency here. Yes, the sorts of activities we undertake would include providing material to relevant embassies overseas and otherwise to put forward and build awareness of action Australia is taking to protect the heritage value of the Great Barrier Reef.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are you making those UNESCO World Heritage countries know about the government's 2030 climate ambition for example, which is on record as 30 to 35 per cent emissions below 2005 levels?

Ms Klugman : Yes, we certainly are.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are you letting them know about the approvals for new fossil fuel projects, new coalmines and new gas projects? We estimate 114 new projects are in the approval process the federal government is signing off on.

Ms Klugman : We're letting them know about the action that the Australian government is taking to protect heritage value.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: What about the action the Australian government's taking in relation to approving new fossil fuel projects? Do you think that's something ambassadors should be telling the truth about?

Senator Payne: What Ms Klugman thinks or does not think is not a matter for these estimates. You know that, and these are matters of public record.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: What about you, Minister? I've got a copy of your latest communication here, which, if you give me a second, I'll just look up.

Senator Payne: That's very good of you.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Always happy to be of service, Minister. From the 28 January 2022—

Senator Payne: What are you? @SurferPete?

Senator WHISH-WILSON: it reads:

The Morrison Government is investing $1 billion in caring for our magnificent #GreatBarrierReef, on top of the $2 billion under the 2050 reef management plan. We will protect our most prized environmental asset & the 64,000 jobs that depend on it.

How are you protecting the Great Barrier Reef, Minister, while you are approving new fossil fuel projects and you've got the least ambitious 2030 emissions targets of the major polluters around the world like the EU, the UK and the US?

Senator Payne: You had a great misfortune to miss the exchange between Senator Ayres and I in the previous session where we spoke about those issues at length but also about our achievements in terms of reductions, for example, between 2005 and 2021, which are matters of fact, and the projections that we have been able to make in relation to 2030 of emissions reductions up to 35 per cent I think it is important to note that Australia—and Minister Ley has said this on multiple occasions—has never hidden from the challenges facing the reef or the pressures of climate change. We are about ensuring, in the work we're doing with the World Heritage Committee and with partners on these issues, a fair, consistent and transparent process for the reef and for the people who, you and I both know, work tirelessly to protect it.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: If you're not hiding from climate change, as you say, why are you helping lobby the World Heritage Committee members—individual countries—against an endangered listing? As you know, UNESCO recommended that to the World Heritage countries. There was a scientific report. I remember Minister Ley said that China was behind this, that there were some shenanigans—we'll leave that aside. That's the science before us; they are recommending a World Heritage downgrade to an endangered listing, based on climate change. Why are you lobbying against that? Why are you promoting climate denial writ large on the world stage when you should be telling the truth about what the future of the Great Barrier Reef is projected to be?

Senator Payne: Thank you for that statement. The government is in no way hiding or misrepresenting the position. In fact I have just been clear that we are not doing that. I think—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I don't see any of that in your communications.

CHAIR: Allow the minister to answer.

Senator Payne: I could bring to the committee an analysis of your Twitter communications, and I think—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Feel free to!

CHAIR: Allow the minister to answer, please.

Senator Payne: The point is: both the minister and I spoke to Director-General Azoulay in June last year in relation to this matter. We did not think the process being pursued by the committee on this matter—which was, in context, in relation to broader issues of the impact of climate change on World Heritage listed areas, such as the great reefs of the world—was advanced by the singling out of one reef in the world. We have worked closely with members of the committee. I don't have all the notes here to refresh my memory on this, but we are continuing to work closely with all the members of the committee to ensure that we take a better approach on process. A number of countries joined us on that, as part of those considerations. Eleven other countries wrote to UNESCO with concerns about the process.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: After you lobbied them to do so.

Senator Payne: It is perfectly legitimate for us to raise concerns in relation to those issues, as many other countries do on countless occasions. We will continue to work constructively and collaboratively. We have invited a reactive monitoring mission here to assess the reef firsthand; that had not happened. Without that personal visit—I think that's very important.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I agree, and I hope they come and see everything and get a fair and balanced view when they're here. Minister Ley was very clear when she said the government had been blindsided by UNESCO's scientific committee recommending an endangered listing. The Great Barrier Reef, as you say, is one of many of the world's reefs that are in danger from climate change and, sadly, that are declining very rapidly. She mentioned very clearly that she thought China was behind this and that this was a punitive measure against the Australian government. Did you get advice from the department as to whether that was true or not?

Mr Isbister : I don't think the minister ever said that China was behind it. I think China was the chair of the World Heritage Committee at the time. We were constructively engaging, as the minister said, trying to ensure that the process that was going to make any such decision was fully informed—that it was looking systematically at how climate change was impacting on all natural heritage sites and how that was done through a considered fashion. That was the focus. When the World Heritage Centre and committee was initially developed 40 or 50 years ago, climate change was not the issue it is today. Trying to understand how that issue is now going to be considered by the World Heritage Centre and committee and technical advisory bodies was critical to informing and ensuring that a decision was going to be—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: With all due respect: this has been discussed for at least a decade now, in a very detailed and thorough way through many agencies. We all know that climate change is the biggest threat to the reef. My question, Minister, is: will you use your social media account—and will the other ambassadors who are talking to these UNESCO countries that will vote on this in the impending vote—to promote that Australia is the third-biggest per capita emitter of emissions in the world? We are also the third-biggest exporter of fossil fuels; that's not included in our statistics that we have been making publicly available. We are still approving new fossil fuel projects at a very rapid rate, even when the International Energy Agency said that 2021 was the year to stop exploration and approval of all new fossil fuel projects. We also make the very simple point that, even with the Paris protocols your government signed up to, limiting global warming to less than two degrees—

CHAIR: We are now past the 20-minute mark, if you would like to wind up this editorial.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I will just finish this question. Will you make the world aware that, even under those Paris agreements we've agreed to, the best science says that coral reefs around the world will decline between 70 and 99 per cent, even on 1.5 degrees of warming, regardless of whether we meet our Paris agreements? Don't you think that's the kind of information the world should see? Don't you think we should be sending the strongest possible siren call for global action, listing the Great Barrier Reef in danger, listing all the world's reefs in danger and then taking political action around the world? Surely that's one of the most important things we can agree on to get this job done and secure the future of the reef?

Senator Payne: I'm going to be respectful of the time that is limited for this committee today. Frankly, I could begin in 1975, with the enactment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act on a nonpartisan basis, the banning by the Fraser Liberal government of oil and gas operations on the Great Barrier Reef and the deeming of the reef to be of World Heritage standard. What is important, though, is that we are working with our partners around the world to ensure the process that is taken in relation to the World Heritage listing of the Great Barrier Reef is a process which is sound and which is contemporary, as Mr Isbister has pointed out. The Australian government has made very significant contributions, including the most recent $1 billion in funding for the reef and extending that investment to over $3 billion. As I said on the record here, we are not in the business of hiding from those challenges; we have been clear about the issues facing the reef and the pressures of climate change. But we want to ensure a fair, consistent and transparent process for this. That is the position we will continue to articulate.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I'm asking you, all of you, as human beings—you know you are going to look back on this later in life and wonder why you didn't do more.

CHAIR: Alright, I think time has expired well and truly.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: This is our opportunity to send the strongest possible message.

CHAIR: I'm sure that'll be good for your social media! Senator Keneally, you have the call.

Senator W HISH-WILSON: You could get a few tips from me, Eric!

CHAIR: I'm sure I could!

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You might need them, too, mate, just quietly!

CHAIR: I fully agree!

Senator KENEALLY: Are we done with Senator Abetz's social media! Minister, this morning Paul Kelly wrote in the Australian:

Pivotal to Australia's success in its pushback against China has been support from the public and bipartisanship from Labor. This bipartisanship is a national asset.

Do you agree that bipartisanship in this context is a national asset?

Senator Payne: I have broadly seen Mr Kelly's piece this morning. There is much of it with which I would agree. Broadly speaking, that is a reasonable observation to make. But there are a number of instances where this has not always been the case. Whilst I would seek to prosecute the case for Australia's national interests in an open, transparent and consistent way—and that is what I endeavour to do—I have found, in my time in this role, that that has not always been the case across the parliament.

Senator KENEALLY: The former ASIO director and defence secretary and ambassador to the United States Mr Dennis Richardson is also quoted in the Australian today as saying:

… Australian governments have seen it to be in the national interest to have a bipartisan approach to critical national security issues. It is a long time since an Australian government has actively sought to create a partisan divide on national security.

He also said that the federal opposition 'has stood with the government in defending our national interests when it has come to economic coercion by China'. Minister, is Mr Richardson incorrect?

Senator Payne: Senator, you can ask questions, but I actually don't intend to take this estimates discussion in the direction of a comment-by-comment analysis. I think there are other and more appropriate places, frankly, to do that. May I say: I have the highest regard for Mr Richardson, of course, and have worked with him over many years. But the engagement by politicians in the rough-and-tumble of the political discourse comes with a record, usually. You yourself have a robust record of engagement in political discourse, I recall—in your candidacy in Bennelong, for example. Senator Ayres has a robust record in political discourse, as do Senator Abetz and Senator Paterson. I probably do as well.

Senator KENEALLY: Australia, as former ambassador Richardson points out—

Senator Payne: I could go to your comments, Senator, on such matters, but I don't intend to take this hearing down that path.

Senator KENEALLY : I'm simply seeking to understand, where Australia has had a long tradition of bipartisanship on national security and foreign policy issues. Indeed, as a member of the intelligence and security committee, I think it represents the best of our bipartisan approach in the national interest, and I pay tribute to my Liberal colleagues on that committee.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator. I'm sure the chair, sitting behind you, appreciates that as well.

Sen ator Payne: I think that is overwhelmingly the case; I don't disagree with you. But it's not always the case.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm just seeking to understand what your posture, as foreign minister, is in relation to bipartisanship and its role in supporting our national interest.

Senator Payne: I have said that that is overwhelmingly preferable. It is important in foreign policy. That's why I've pointed to the vital importance of consistency and clarity and been clear in doing so. But I am aware—and have been on the receiving end, frankly, from time to time, as a member of this government—of statements which I don't agree reflected bipartisanship by your side of politics. I don't think they're helpful, from that, either.

Senator KENEALLY: We are in a pre-caretaker period—

Senator Payne: What's a 'pre-caretaker period'?

Senator KENEALLY: Well, we are about to go into caretaker period—

Senator Payne: There is no such thing as a 'pre-caretaker period'; there's a caretaker period—to be clear.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, but we are just before that happens, so we are in a pre-caretaker period, and these discussions will be the subject of much domestic and international speculation. I note that this morning Mr Paul Kelly said:

The election needs to leave Australia in a stronger position to deal with China, not diminished and more divided.

Now, I'm sure you would say, as you have agreed, that bipartisanship is important, and, I would say, both to understanding the threats and challenges we face and on policy responses, which are important elements of our national security. So, in this pre-election period, perceptions on bipartisanship are important, particularly to our international allies, are they not?

Senator Payne: They are, but I don't necessarily think they give a leave pass to people's records, and if people's records don't withstand scrutiny on this issue, then that's essentially a fact.

Senator KENEALLY: I would hope that we would all agree that we face the most challenging set of regional circumstances since the end of the Second World War, and central to these challenges is a more aggressive and assertive China. It seems to me that you are agreeing that it is in our national interests that the asset that is our bipartisan approach to foreign policy and national security be maintained.

Senator Payne: I would certainly seek that those who participate in the national debate consistently display that, and I would say that one of the points that has been raised in this discussion in recent times, in recent reporting, is a lack of consistency.

Senator KENEALLY: I might come to that, but I really want to explore this issue a bit more.

Senator Payne: Senator, I'm not going to take this hearing down the path of a lengthy discussion on this matter.

Senator KENEALLY: With the greatest of—

Senator Payne: You can keep asking questions.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes. I was going to say that, with the greatest of respect, it's estimates and I can—

Senator Payne: Actually, with none; I understand that. But certainly.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm just seeking to ask some questions.

CHAIR: Yes. We can get into what the Minister has said, and I can remind the committee that there may be a senator sitting at the table here on this side who may have made comments about the government being China-phobic in relation to the expression of some of its concerns, and you might be familiar with those comments, Senator Keneally. You might, indeed, have a very close relationship with that senator. If we want to have that he-said, she-said, we can do, but I'm not sure it serves any purpose.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, have you sought to reassure any of Australia's allies of the level of bipartisanship in our national security and foreign policy? For example, did you do this at last week's Quad foreign ministers' meeting?

Senator Payne: Senator, as I think I said earlier in the day, we have had a significant range of discussions literally just in the last week, and more are to come in my engagements in the coming days. Certainly, through the meeting of the Quad, with the foreign minister and foreign minister equivalents from the United States, India and Japan, with the meeting with the Lithuanian foreign minister, with the meeting with the minister for foreign affairs from Timor-Leste, with my counterparts with whom I speak regularly by phone and by videoconference these days, I always assure them of Australia's strength and resilience and of the basic positions and values that we hold.

Senator KENEALLY: That is a quite comprehensive answer. The question I asked was: did you assure them of the level of bipartisanship that exists in Australia—such as is exemplified by the consistency of policy positions between the government and the opposition on matters like China or, indeed, the good work that is done by the intelligence and security committee?

Senator Payne: I was pleased that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow minister for foreign affairs—I'm not sure if other shadow ministers were present—themselves had the opportunity to meet with a number of our visitors in that context in those events last week, and I'm sure that message was strongly delivered.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, the director of the National Security College, Mr Rory Medcalf, has said:

The government can't have it both ways—assuring our allies that we are in it for the long haul, through the many changes of government it will take for our odyssey of building nuclear submarines, while insisting that only one side of politics can be trusted on security …

But, Minister, it is clear that some of your colleagues are pushing such a narrative. How can this be consistent with our need to reassure our allies that on such long-term objectives there is bipartisanship on these issues?

Senator Payne: There is a point upon which we agree, and that is the importance of consistency. One of the issues which has been raised in recent political debate is that question of consistency, and that is an observation which I think government is entitled to make. It is absolutely important to be clear and consistent in our approaches on these matters.

Senator KENEALLY: You mentioned earlier the idea of the rough and tumble of politics, and I think we can both acknowledge politics at times is full of rough and tumble. But Dennis Richardson has made the observation that the opposition has given bipartisanship on matters such as economic coercion by China. Shouldn't national security be outside the rough and tumble? Isn't that in the national interest?

Senator Payne: Yes, and I would point you to a range of examples, which I do not intend to take this committee through, where that consistency has not been delivered. I would hope to see that it is the case, particularly, as you say, in a very difficult strategic environment, that Australia is able to continue to take the very strong approach that we have taken, for example, and absolutely acknowledge that this is an approach on Ukraine and Russia where the entire parliament, frankly, to the best of any knowledge, is united on respecting, acknowledging and emphasising the importance of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukraine. That has not been an issue that has been raised with me as causing any of the issues that you have pointed to.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Secretary, we asked your predecessor a number of questions at a previous hearing about the impact of language in this debate on our social cohesion. Ms Adamson said:

When we are able to project a sense of bipartisanship and of unity about what matters most in our values, that's a powerful message. To be very frank, what I think Beijing is looking for is division and where they're able to show division.

What's your assessment of Beijing's intent? Are they looking to sow division in our communities and in our policies on national security?

Ms Campbell : I'll ask Mr Hayhurst, who has responsibility for this area, to answer that question.

Mr Hayhurst : I think it's fair to say that the Chinese system seeks to exploit social and other divisions in countries to pursue its interests. That's very apparent.

Senator KENEALLY: What is your assessment of the best way for countries, and particularly Australia, to resist that division?

Mr Hayhurst : Our remit is about Australia's international posture and policies, of course. But, clearly, at a time of strategic and security challenges, having the right systems and high levels of social cohesion better equip countries to handle disruption, challenges, security threats and risks.

Senator KENEALLY: I do observe—and I think it's a fair point you make that this is not solely within DFAT's remit—the director-general of ASIO said last week in his annual threat assessment:

It is critical we do not let fear of foreign interference undermine stakeholder engagement or stoke community division. Were this to happen, it would perversely have the same corrosive impact on our democracy as foreign interference itself.

I can say, as a former candidate in a seat that had a high number of Australians from a Chinese background, many members of the Australian community who are of a Chinese background do feel acutely at times as if fear of foreign interference by China has somehow cast a suspicion upon them. So, in considering the ASIO director-general's words, which do cross over into part of your area, do you agree that it is critical we do not let fear of foreign interference undermine that stakeholder engagement or stoke community division?

Mr Hayhurst : In my framing, social cohesion is very important, and I think the government and ministers, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, have been at great pains to emphasise that in relation to members of the Australian community who are of Chinese descent.

Senator KENEALLY: Bearing all this in mind, Minister—and I do welcome some of your comments today—what advice are you giving your colleagues about the importance of supporting bipartisanship on foreign policy and national security?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to go into my discussions with colleagues on any matters. I do not do that, as you know.

CHAIR: But, Minister, do colleagues sometimes have to take the lead on some of these issues? I recall certain phraseology directed at myself when I opposed an extradition treaty with China, and all sorts of things were accused at the time. Now, I think, nobody thinks it would be a good idea for us to have such an extradition treaty with China, if we are, in fact, unravelling the one that we had with Hong Kong—or we've suspended it; I think that's the correct terminology. So sometimes you do need people to make these comments and observations. It's the same with the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, which I raised quite some time before it became part and parcel of an accepted view right around the world. It's very easy to make those sorts of comments and say that somebody's not being bipartisan, yet, after a little while, it does become the accepted wisdom.

Has that been your experience, Mr Hayhurst?

Mr Hayhurst : My experience has been that Australian democracy has been able to deal with these challenges in a very appropriate way. By having these open debates, the government has been able to have that context with which to consider foreign policy and other advice provided by agencies, including us.

Senator Payne: The importance of discussion and debate cannot be cancelled by some of the assertions that have been made in this discussion, in my view. That does not detract an iota from the observations I made about the importance of Australia's foreign policy. But the record shows that, during the iterations of this government's enactment of a range of pieces of legislation since 2016, there have been criticisms of those which have ventured into—to use Senator Keneally's language—the national security space. That is a fact. There has not always been consistency, if you like, from all on those.

Senator KENEALLY: If I may, Chair, thank you for your observation because it does remind us that bipartisanship is sometimes eventually reached. In that circumstance that you pointed to about the extradition treaty, of course, Labor also opposed the extradition treaty.

CHAIR: Not at the time I did. You came on board later, which I welcomed.

Senator KENEALLY: I believe, in fact, that we were in fact on the same page. Correct me if I'm wrong, Minister, but my recollection is that at the time the cabinet had approved the extradition treaty with China, correct?

Senator Payne: I don't recall the date, Senator—

S enator KENEALLY: I believe you were a member.

Senator Payne: and I don't have that information in front of me.

Senator KENEALLY: You don't recall that the cabinet approved the extradition treaty?

Senator Payne: The date, I said.

Senator KENEALL Y: You don't recall that the Turnbull government approved the extradition treaty with China?

Senator Payne: No, I didn't say that. I said I didn't know the date.

Senator KENEALLY: 'I didn't have the date'? I didn't ask the date.

Senator Payne: Sorry, I thought you were asking about the time; you said 'at that time'. I did not have that information.

CHAIR: I think there was talk about a time line.

Senator KENEALLY: My question was: you were a member of a cabinet that approved the extradition treaty to China, correct?

Senator Payne: I'm trying to recall the date, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm not asking the date. I'm asking if you were a member of a cabinet that approved an extradition treaty with China.

Senator Payne: I believe that was the case, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you.

Senator Payne: But, as I've said, I don't comment on cabinet deliberations—

Senator KENEALLY: I think a very helpful intervention—

Senator Payne: and you can't possibly have any insight on them, respectfully.

Senator KENEALLY: No, I can't. That's why I've asked the question. That's the point of Senate estimates. Thank you, Senator Abetz. Minister, what I take from your answers today—I do thank you for them—is that you do retain a commitment to bipartisanship on national security and foreign policy matters, something I do welcome. It seems to me you take that seriously, and I appreciate you are not going to comment on your conversations with your colleagues, but I am heartened by the answers you have given today. Thank you.

CHAIR: I am happy to ask a few questions, or we can go to Senator Fawcett now.

Senator AYRES: I have questions. If Senator Fawcett has a clutch of questions, I'm happy to go to him.

Senator Payne: 'A clutch of questions'? That's a new collective noun!

CHAIR: Senator Fawcett with his clutch of questions.

Senator AYRES: I can see I'm going to regret that!

CHAIR: Just one of many things, I'm sure, Senator.

Senator Payne: It could lead to a lot of discussions about chickens and eggs and all sorts of things.

Senator FAWCETT: Secretary, could we get the relevant officers for the Solomon Islands?

Ms Campbell : The head of the Office of the Pacific will join us.

CHAIR: And the Middle East; I suspect there might be a few Israel questions coming up as well.

Senator Payne: We'll keep them close, Senator.

Ms Campbell : We'll have the Middle East prepared. They will come down from upstairs if they are upstairs.

CHAIR: That's why I'm calling them now, so they can potentially make themselves available.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr McDonald, I would just like to get an update, if I could, on the situation in the Solomon Islands. Obviously, Australia had a significant role there after the unrest that occurred, and I am aware they have also had an outbreak of COVID. So I'm just wanting to get an update on the stability and on our ongoing engagement, particularly with our Pacific family. I understand PNG, Fiji and New Zealand were involved. Are they still involved, and what is their response to COVID there?

Mr McDonald : As you may recall, it was 24 November that Honiara escalated into a series of incidents of public disorder and instability. On the following day, on the afternoon of the 25th, Australia received a request to provide security support under our bilateral security treaty, which was struck in 2017. It was the first time that treaty had been utilised. Later that day, Prime Minister Morrison announced we would be deploying to Honiara in support of that request. As you mentioned, Senator, we also work with our Pacific family. PNG, Fiji and New Zealand were also part of that and responded swiftly as well to restore calm in the Solomon Islands. That calmness was restored very quickly on the morning of the 27th. Stability had, I suppose, got to a point where it was more settled—that might be the way to put it—at that time.

Also, the parliament was able to resume in early December. You may recall there was a vote of no-confidence at that time that was being considered. That was very important for the democratic basis of the country. Of course, security and law and order were very important at that point, and the RSIPF, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, were at that point providing high visibility patrols and the like. Under our bilateral security treaty, the Australian Federal Police commander becomes a deputy commissioner of the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and he was also sworn into that role. Subsequent to that—stability still remains at this point—we still have the contingent in place, and I can give you the exact numbers. But of course COVID—

Senator FAWCETT: Perhaps, before we go onto COVID, could I just come back to the role of the RSIPF. My understanding is that we have trained them for a number of years, since RAMSI, as well as provided equipment. Has there been any assessment as to the efficacy of their approach and the policing and responding to that unrest?

Mr McDonald : Yes. On that day, 24 November, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force did an excellent job in being able to withstand the unrest that was happening at the time. That was a credit to the training and the non-lethal weapons that they were utilising. It also, I think, demonstrated the advice that our Australian Federal Police, who are there on a regular basis, were providing to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force. I visited Solomon Islands with Commissioner Kershaw not long ago, and he equally reiterated the excellent job that the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force have done. Of course, when we arrived on the 25th we were able to replenish those non-lethal weapons and the like. So an excellent job was done at the time, and that's continuing. The training and support for the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force is continuing through both the contingent we brought in under the bilateral security treaty but also our existing, ongoing Australian Federal Police program.

Senator FAWCETT: That's probably a good point to go to the COVID question. I know that we went to a lot of trouble to make sure that none of that Australian group or other allies from our Pacific family took COVID in. What is happening now with COVID, and where did the outbreak occur?

Mr McDonald : The outbreak occurred on 21 January. I remember that day. As you know, Solomon Islands had been COVID-free up until that point and had worked very hard on that, and we had worked closely with them on preparations in case it occurred at a later date. It occurred from a PNG crossing at one of the outer islands, and, as you would know, Senator, from your time travelling in the region, the health system in Solomon Islands was put under considerable strain as a result of that. Since then we have worked very closely with Solomon Islands on that. A number of RAAF flights have come in—certainly around six, including the last one on the 15th, yesterday—delivering humanitarian and medical supplies. We've also had an AUSMAT team in there at the request of Solomon Islands, which has been very important.

During the visit to Solomon Islands a few weeks ago, Dr Jimmie Rodgers, who's the head of the prime minister's department and is a medical practitioner, put a number of requests to us, which we subsequently responded to. Oxygen has been a problem with many of the outbreaks we've had across the region, to be honest, so 100 oxygen concentrators have been provided as well. Six tonnes of UNICEF emergency water and sanitation kits, as well as increased vaccine doses—because as you can understand, where there's an outbreak, a bit like in Australia, the number of people willing to get the vaccine increases significantly, so that was also important.

The other bit that's worried us a lot, and the minister has been very focused on this whole effort by Australia, is around food security. The foreign minister approved us supporting the food security drops that have been happening to the outer islands. As you know, in Honiara, there are shipping lines that go back and forth, but COVID prevented that occurring, and therefore flights were needed. We did that with the Solomon Islands airline—where we could and where they could land—and we used the C-27s from the Australian Defence Force. The effort's been comprehensive and will continue for us into the future.

Senator AYRES: Could you tell me how many vaccines we've supplied? What is the level of vaccination in the Solomon Islands?

Mr McDonald : From memory, we've given about 300,000. Their double vaccination rate was over 20 per cent. It started pretty quickly, and then slowed because they didn't have it. It's increasing again. There is no shortage of supply in vaccines for us, so we've been rolling them out as the demand requires. We're just concerned about expiration dates if we put too many in too early. So that's been a positive.

The other thing is that, as you can imagine, testing capacity has been a problem. So getting RATs, as they're known by everybody, into the country has been important, and we've recently delivered around 100,000 there as well, I think. Vaccination is important. I think we're seeing an increase, and we're trying to encourage and support that.

Senator FAWCETT: Just remaining on the Pacific and COVID, obviously COVID has had a big impact on their GDP that comes from tourists and other activities, so remittances from the Pacific Labour Scheme and Seasonal Worker Program have been important. Could you just talk to the committee briefly about the program that is bringing those two together, and how many people have come—

Senator Payne: The PALM program, Senator?

Senator FAWCETT: Yes, and updates to that around welfare of workers et cetera.

Mr McDonald : There's a workforce of about 55,000 ready to come into Australia from the Pacific. It's dropped slightly because a number have come in, but it's certainly over 50,000. There are about 20,000 or so currently in Australia, which is the highest number ever. COVID has been a challenge as we've gone through this, and I think the numbers and interest from countries has been excellent, in that we've required that people be vaccinated beforehand or as they arrive, and there have been quarantine arrangements that they've had to enter, as well as other provisions in country. Bringing those things together has been a challenge, I'll be honest with you, with COVID. Of course, in some countries—and it's still the case—the borders have been closed to keep the pandemic out; that's restricted the number coming from those countries. But, now it's starting to free up, there are opportunities for employers to support increasing those Pacific labour numbers. The supply is there. It's now an opportunity, with Australia's changes.

The other country worth mentioning is Fiji, because tourism, as you mentioned, Senator, has taken a big hit there. They're coming out of their third wave of omicron, and they've just reduced their restrictions again—and, interestingly, they're almost following in step behind us in terms of what Australia's done.

Senator FAWCETT: Could we come back to the PALM program. I'm specifically interested in how the reforms to that program are working out. I'm also interested in the numbers of people who are available at the moment to come. How many of those have been here previously and see this as a net positive for them and for their families?

Mr McDonald : I might ask Ms Heinecke to help me with this. I do know, for example, that the Seasonal Worker Program, which we recently took over from the department of employment, has about 74 per cent of returnee workers each year, often to the same employer. So, yes, there is a lot of return. There is a lot of continuation, and there's been a lot of interest in the program. But I might ask Ms Heinecke to talk about the reforms that are being put in place.

Senator VAN: Sorry to interrupt—was that 74 per cent returned, Mr McDonald?

Mr McDonald : Yes. It was 74 per cent under the Seasonal Worker Program. Often, some are coming back to the same employer because of the relationship they had. Overwhelmingly, the program is received very positively in the region and also in the interactions we have here, which you've been at yourself, with the ambassadors and high commissioners.

Senator VAN: Thank you.

Ms Heinecke : To confirm, we undertook a review in 2021 that included consultations across Australia. There were 47 consultations, and we had 92 responses to questions. As a result of that review, the government made a series of announcements, the first in September last year and the second in November, and those brought together a number of reforms. The first big decision was to introduce the PALM scheme that put the programs together. Machinery of government change was part of that announcement which brought the Seasonal Worker Program into DFAT. That was completed on 20 January, as Mr McDonald said.

I'll go through a couple of key points from those reforms. First, what we aimed to really do, based on the consultations, was to bring together administrative efficiencies for Pacific governments and for employers in Australia. Now there's one department that everybody's dealing with. We're in the process of negotiating a new PALM deed with employers, Pacific governments and community groups; unions have been involved in those discussions as well. We're close to finalising those. A new deed will come into place on 4 April this year.

Some of the benefits and changes that have been approved that we're implementing as part of that program include the long-term stream. The visa has been extended from three years to four years. That does provide greater opportunities as well as funding that we've provided through the program to upskill workers. There's also an option for employees to move from the seasonal stream. Horticulture is the primary area in which that seasonal stream has been used to date, but it is also available to tourism in regional and rural areas. They can move to the long-term visa. That can happen onshore, and it does allow employers and workers to work together to upskill workers into higher jobs in those sectors.

We've removed recruitment caps for employers that have a good record. We've streamlined reporting across those programs, and we've also looked at improvements in the welfare space. Many of those are being negotiated in the PALM deed which is under negotiation as we speak. I'd also like to mention that, for Pacific countries, in bringing the schemes together in one deed, we're also negotiating MOUs with those countries. There is high demand from the Pacific—

Senator FAWCETT: What was that term you used? 'Pacific gut'?

Ms Heinecke : I said 'Pacific governments'—and Timor-Leste, which are part of the scheme.

Senator FAWCETT: Okay.

Ms Heinecke : There will be a new in-country IT database which will be open to employers as well as each Pacific labour ministry. That's really important to Pacific governments and Pacific high commissions here because it enables them to track their workers in time, and that's going to be important both for recruitment and for some of the work that they do here in Australia to track welfare cases with us.

Senator FAWCETT: My last question on this is: you've talked about the longer visas and the opportunity for upskilling. Traditionally, much of this has been in the agricultural sector. Is there a plan, are there activities underway, to expand the options for work into sectors other than just agriculture?

Ms Heinecke : Yes. Agriculture has been the dominant sector, but we have a high interest in aged care and other care sectors. There are 146 aged-care workers at the moment in country. We have a pilot at the moment, working with the Northern Territory government and Samoa, which is training up workers here in Australia, and that will enable them to go into aged-care jobs which, of course, are in high demand here. Importantly, it is adding to the skills gain in the Pacific, which is really important to Pacific countries. We are looking to expand those types of arrangements. Now that borders are open, we expect that there'll be also high growth in tourism hospitality. There's also been some demand—in rural Victoria, for example, we have had recruitment through the Pacific Labour Scheme into light manufacturing—but that's been in relatively low numbers. It is available for any sector in rural and regional areas where labour market testing can demonstrate there's a gap and there's demand.

Senator Payne: I was told recently construction is also under consideration?

Ms Heinecke : Yes, if there's demand we can work in any sector.

Senator FAWCETT: That's encouraging. I just want to move on very quickly—and we can probably deal with this at the secretary level—to the Middle East, specifically the Amnesty International report into Israel. I found it quite offensive and poorly considered for them to use the word 'apartheid'. I know the minister and the Prime Minister have made comments, but from a departmental perspective can the department offer a view on how valid they think the use of that term is and actions that we're taking to work constructively with Israel around some of those areas where there have been concerns raised in the international community?

Ms Campbell : Mr Innes-Brown is well placed to answer this.

Mr Innes-Brown : On the specific report, it's not a characterisation that we have determined or share. Those sorts of judgements are usually made in an appropriate international context or setting. In relation to the issues that it makes allegations about, as you said, we seek to engage constructively with Israel on various issues of concern and we continue to do so on a regular basis. Most recently, last week on 7 February our ambassador spoke to the foreign ministry about a number of matters. He did speak to parliamentarians a week or so prior to that, and most recently in Canberra on 21 January I spoke to the Israeli ambassador-designate.

Senator FAWCETT: I have two other questions and I'm conscious of time. One is—

CHAIR: If I might just briefly intervene on this issue, is it a fact that in Israel that there is an Arab party which is a key member of the current Israeli governing coalition?

Mr Innes-Brown : That is a fact, Senator.

CHAIR: And is it also correct that all of its citizens have equal rights regardless of ethnicity or religion?

Mr Innes-Brown : I'd like to check that characterisation, but I believe so.

CHAIR: Thank you. Are you aware of the Economist magazine's ranking of democracies in the world?

Mr Innes-Brown : I haven't studied it recently.

CHAIR: Alright. Well, Secretary, possibly to you, do we consider, does Australia consider—or Minister—that Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and the United States are democracies?

Ms Campbell : We do.

CHAIR: We do, right. The Economist ranks Israel as the world's 23rd-most democratic country and more democratic than Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and the United States, so one wonders where Amnesty International gets off on this. Have we made any representations to Amnesty International to the effect that, if they want to be considered as a credible organisation pursuing genuine issues of human rights, they might like to ensure that they don't engage in such inflammatory misinformation, which clearly defies the objective facts in relation to Israel?

Mr Inne s-Brown : We do engage with them regularly. I have had discussions with Amnesty International prior to this report coming out in recent weeks and late last year. We are more than happy to convey those views. My initial response to Senator Fawcett was that we didn't share that characterisation and we don't support it, so I'm very happy to do so.

CHAIR: Can I encourage you to do so proactively, not just to do so on the occasion of another discussion but to say that—

Mr Innes-Brown : Sure.

CHAIR: after consideration of this inflammatory report full of misinformation, if it wants to protect its reputation and standing, it might reconsider its stance?

Senator Payne: As you know, we have also joined a number of international partners in rejecting the characterisation of Israel. Australia has been explicit, as has been acknowledged at the table, as have Germany, the UK, France, the United States and others, and I do not agree with, cannot support and would not consider an accurate representation, frankly, the comments that Senator Lines, the senator for Western Australia, made in the Senate last week.

CHAIR: They were basically regurgitating the very misinformed and ill-founded Amnesty report. In the spirit of bipartisanship on matters of foreign affairs, I'm sure Ms Lines does not represent the views of the Labor Party, despite the very senior position she holds, which is that of the nominee for the presidency of the Senate.

Senator Payne: Senator Wong has indicated her position.


Senator VAN: Chair, I'd like to ask a clarifying question on that. If you're putting those questions to Amnesty International, it'd be interesting to understand their motivations behind such reports. It might be characterised as seeking publicity. Whether that be for donations or political reasons I cannot ascertain, but a lot of NGO activity around Israel seems to be publicity seeking, assuming to shore up public donations.

Senator Payne: I'll take that as a comment, Senator.

Senator FAWCETT: I have just two questions on South-East Asia. Firstly, I want to ask about Vietnam and Mr Chau Van Kham. Do you have any updates on our consular access to him?

Ms Campbell : We'll get the consular people to the table.

Mr Wilcock : Could you ask your question again, please, Senator?

Senator FAWCETT: I'm interested in the case of Mr Chau Van Kham in Vietnam. I understand that, despite his poor health and a prolonged legal wrangle, our consular access has been limited. I'm interested to know what representations we've made, whether that situation has improved and what prognosis, if that's the right word, we see for his circumstances.

Mr Wilcock : You're right, it has been a prolonged period without face-to-face consular access to Mr Kham. If I refer to him as Mr Kham, you'll understand I'm talking about the same person. Our last consular access to Mr Kham was in April last year, around the time of Anzac Day. Since then, we've not been able to exercise consular access to him on COVID-19 control grounds. We've advocated to the Vietnamese authorities that we put in place workarounds, including telephone access. That has not just been us; we have worked with like-mindeds to make those points. That has not been agreed to. I'm happy to report, though, that our request for consular access to Mr Kham for later this month, in about 10 days' time, has been agreed to.

Senator FAWCE TT: That's good. I'll look forward to receiving an update from you.

Senator Payne: On my visit to Vietnam in November, Mr Kham's detention is a matter that I also raised with senior ministers, including the Prime Minister, the Minister for Home Affairs equivalent—I'm not sure what the correct title is—and the foreign minister.

Senator FAWCETT: Can we go to Myanmar? From our previous discussions, you'll be aware, Minister, of my interests through the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in autonomous sanctions. We passed the report, and I welcome the government's introduction and subsequent passage of that legislation, but the question that logically raises is what we are doing with like-minded nations and, indeed, multilateral bodies such as the UN to seek to bring pressure on the junta to stop the atrocities that we are seeing perpetrated against the people of Myanmar on a very regular, if not daily, basis?

Ms Cooper : We do have some sanctions on Myanmar, as you know, and we have further sanctions under active consideration. We are very active in trying to address the really dreadful situation in Myanmar. Overall, of course, our broader objectives are for the military to engage in a dialogue and return to democracy, for violence to cease and to alleviate the humanitarian situation, including getting better access for humanitarian assistance and to strengthen ASEAN unity and leadership in their efforts in Myanmar. We also call out regularly—the Minister for Foreign Affairs has done that just recently—the unjust trial and sentencing of Aung San Suu Kyi. Recently on the 1 February, she issued a joint statement with many of her colleagues, expressing grave concern over of State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi and other political detainees.

Senator FAWCETT: I'm being conscious off time here, so I won't extend this. Statements are important—I understand that—but, for many people on the ground in Myanmar, those statements don't change the daily reality of what they are facing in terms of military attacks, health, food shortages and a whole range of things. I'm keen to understand what practical steps we with like-minded nations can take with ASEAN and the UN to bring about pressure on the Tatmadaw to re-engage positively in the transition back to civilian power. You can take that on notice in the interests of time.

Senator KENEALLY: I have some questions about the Australian women and children in north-east Syria. I don't know if we can call the ambassador—

Ms Campbell : We will bring the officers to the table.

Senator KENEALLY: I understand the department works closely with Home Affairs, and they outlined in the estimates hearing on Monday that they monitor the situation in the camps in cooperation with the Australian security agencies and have explored options for safe repatriation and community reintegration. I also want to make clear that I appreciate that this work is sensitive and complex, and there are serious security concerns in the camps themselves and for any repatriations. Bearing all that in mind, I would like to explore with the department why it is that we are in the third year of this issue, and why Australians, particularly Australian children or children with a claim to Australian citizenship, remain in these camps.

Mr Noble : Fundamentally, the situation that those women and children find themselves in—where they are and why they are there—makes them persons of counterterrorism interest, which is a whole-of-government responsibility that, as you correctly pointed out, is coordinated by the Department of Home Affairs. On Monday, the secretary of Home Affairs talked to you about the risk-based approach to analysing their situation and the policy towards them. I think he reiterated that the policy has not changed. DFAT contributes to that by helping inform the risk and getting the best information that we can. The Australian government driver of the policy has been, and remains, the protection of Australians and the Australian community.

Senator KENEALLY: I understand that. What I sought to explore with Home Affairs officials on Monday is, given the suite of counterterrorism and national security legislation that has passed the parliament, particularly with bipartisan support—control orders, temporary exclusion orders, and the like—whether there is a legislative gap in our suite of counterterrorism tools. Is there a policy gap that is preventing repatriation, particularly of these children? It was my understanding, from speaking with some of the groups, such as Save the Children, as well as some of the families, that the adults are actually quite willing to agree to a range of orders being placed upon them. Their primary concern is about the safety of the children. Is there a legislative or policy gap where we are not able to safely manage that risk in order to repatriate the children in particular?

Senator Payne: No, not to the best of my knowledge or awareness. I think Secretary Pezzullo said in his evidence on Monday that conditions for repatriation require an overall judgement. I would augment that by saying it requires a whole-of-government approach, which is about balancing the various risks, including, as he said, ensuring that 'there wouldn't be an increased, unreasonable and unacceptable threat to community safety back here in Australia'. We are also very conscious that the security environment in Syria remains both volatile and dynamic, and ISIL's recent attack on a prison in al-Hasakah would indicate that. I spoke with the foreign minister of Iraq earlier this week, and a number of these issues were raised in our conversation as well.

Senator KENEALLY: Are repatriations under active consideration?

Senator Payne: We are always keeping the situations in the camps under review. We don't have a blanket policy with regard to repatriations. It's one which is considered by the government across agencies, as Mr Pezzullo has explained and as counterparts here have indicated.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you have information as to how many Australian women or, indeed, children who have a claim to Australian citizenship are located in al-Roj?

Mr Noble : We listened to your questions to Home Affairs on Monday.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you.

Mr Noble : We haven't got the answer yet. The number I have is 65 men and women in Syria. The children number is probably always going to be an estimate and we don't have it yet, but I'll undertake to get it to you and Home Affairs will do that.

Senator Payne: We're seeking that, Senator.

Mr Noble : The reason is that the Syrian Kurdish authorities don't actually count the children by number. That's why you often hear the term '12 family groups' as indicative.

Senator KENEALLY: When you talk about the women and men, my understanding—and correct me if I'm wrong—is that the men are largely in prisons, not in the camps. Is that your understanding?

Mr Noble : My understanding is that the majority of women and children are in al-Roj. The men's locations are uncertain, but they're in detention and across Syria, potentially not—

Senator KENEALLY: But those that we know are more likely to be in a prison than in a camp, and there are some where we don't know at all where they are.

Mr Noble : That's an accurate generalisation.

Senator KENEALLY: I want to be clear that my questions here are really about those women and children in the camps, although I am going to come to the particular issue that the minister just raised, about the prison attack. As I said at the start of these questions, I'm not minimising the security considerations that are at stake. But, as you know, many other countries have steadily conducted safe repatriations. The United States has done so. We've seen, in the last few months, Norway, the Netherlands and Sweden—I believe Sweden even conducted repatriations after the prison attack. Switzerland has also done so in recent months. Do you have any engagement with other like-minded countries about the way in which they've been able to safely conduct repatriations?

Mr Noble : We do. We closely track all reports of repatriations by country. We regularly talk to nations who do it and we share lessons about it. We also talk to nations that don't do it, of which there are many who have a nonrepatriation policy or a policy close to Australia's. That's one of the DFAT contributions: understanding the current situation, and complexities and risks associated with repatriation.

Senator KENEALLY: The fact that these countries have been able to repatriate their citizens shows that it is possible to have access to these camps and to remove people, doesn't it?

Mr Noble : Yes, but it's about the risk associated with entering the camps and conducting repatriation. One of the risks—I think Home Affairs mentioned this on Monday—is risk to officials and those who actually conduct any repatriation.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm really pleased you raised that, because one of the questions Home Affairs could not answer for me on Monday was about a report in the Sydney Morning Herald on 3 November 2021 that Australian officials travelled to Syria in late September to gather information about these Australian women and children. Is that report correct?

Mr Noble : We're aware of the report. The answer that I give publicly is that the consular interaction is indirect with people in the camps, principally through third parties, such as humanitarian actors. We cannot comment, to protect the safety of Australian officials who are operating in the region.

Senator KENEALLY: The report also states that the government was waiting for a report from DFAT, Home Affairs and ASIO on possible repatriations. Did the department complete that report?

Mr Noble : I would refer you again to the response of the secretary of Home Affairs on Monday. He said there has been no change to the risk based situation to indicate the need to change the policy and no decision to change the policy. As the minister said, we are in constant interagency discussion around the matter and the risks associated with it. So it's an ongoing process, with no decision to change policy.

Senator KENEALLY: I suppose what I'm asking here is not if the policy has changed, because demonstrably it has not; I'm asking if there has been a report to government on possible repatriations since September. Has there been a report to government on possible repatriations? Has government been advised by the department? I'm not asking the content of that advice; I'm asking if a report or advice has been forwarded to government since September on possible repatriations.

Mr Noble : I'll take that on notice. I'm not tracking that. I'd need to check.

Senator KENEALLY: The minister raised the issue of the prison attack in north-east Syria, where ISIS attacked a prison. Australian males, including under 18s, minors, are being detained. It was reported that an Australian boy was injured in the violence. Does the department have any information on his welfare?

CHA IR: Can we be told what age this boy is?

Mr Noble : We are aware of the reports. We got them from a variety of third parties. Our understanding is his age is 17, almost 18.

CHAIR: Hardly really a boy.

Senator KENEALLY: I believe he was 14 when he went into a Kurdish prison. Is that correct, Mr Noble?

Mr Noble : I don't know when he went into the prison.

CHAIR: Age 14 would be the same age as the young man that took out that police accountant in Sydney.

Senator KENEALLY: It was reported on 24 January that he 'suffered a head wound as gunfire and explosions rattled around him'. He told his family via voice message, 'I'm scared I might die at any time.' I'm just seeking if the department has any update on his welfare.

Mr Nob le : From third parties, we believe he did escape the prison. We don't know where he is. If he is in detention, I can assure you that—

Senator KENEALLY: You don't know where he is, but you know he's in detention?

Mr Noble : No, but that's the report from third parties. I would assure you that everybody is watching closely and seeking to understand where he is and not just him but actually what occurred after that prison break. He might have escaped from the prison and he might not have.

Senator KENEA LLY: In order to facilitate the committee, I'm happy to accede some time now, but I may come back to this later.

Senator PATRICK: I was listening to the exchange between the minister and Senator Keneally in relation to bipartisan foreign affairs support. Just to give some context to my questions, the defence minister said last week:

We now see evidence that the Chinese Communist Party—the Chinese government—has also made a decision about who they're going to back in the next federal election. That's open. That is obvious. And they have picked this bloke, the Leader of the Opposition, as their candidate.

He then went on to assert that the claim was based on open-source and other intelligence. Just you are the experts on foreign policy on China. What open-source information is DFAT in possession of that supports the claim that the Chinese Communist Party has made a decision to back Mr Albanese and the Australian Labor Party in the coming federal election?

Senator Payne: Senator Patrick, if I understand your question correctly, you're asking the department to comment on statements of the minister.

Senator PATRICK: I'm just trying to understand what—

Senator Payne: I'll ask the department to say whatever they are able to. I'd note that this matter or these issues have been discussed this week, including in Home Affairs estimates as well. There have been a number of reports, both the director-general of security's update and the ASPI report, which are part of the conversation this week as well. I'll ask the officials whether they have anything to add.

Mr Hayhurst : I don't have anything to add.

Ms Campbell : I don't have anything to add.

Senator PATRICK: What open-source information specifically identifies when, where and which decision-makers in the Chinese Communist Party arrived at the decision asserted by our defence minister?

Senator Payne: In asking the officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to comment, to respond, on aspects of the defence minister's statement or any others, other than perhaps mine, is a difficult question to ask officials. If they have anything to add, I will ask them to do so.

Ms Campbell : I have nothing to add.

Senator PATRICK: So no evidence. Thank you.

Senator Payne: The secretary said she had nothing to add.

Senator PATRICK: Your department is the premier department, in relation to foreign affairs.

Senator Payne: It is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator PATRICK: Yes. I'm just trying to work out what grounded the statement by the defence minister. I presume he would come to the department to seek advice on these sorts of matters or would receive information—

Senator Payne: No, the defence minister seeks advice from the defence department.

Senator PATRICK: So he's gone a bit rogue, then.

Senator Payne: He has made a number of comments in addition, in his recent media statements, in relation to these matters.

Senator PATRICK: These can be very quickly answered. Is DFAT in possession of any published statements by the Chinese Communist Party or Chinese government, CCP communiques, statement by Chinese officials or pronouncements in the Chinese Communist Party-controlled publications that support the defence minister's claim that the CCP has made a decision to support Mr Albanese? That doesn't go to what was said, it's just: do you have anything in your possession that would support that claim?

Senator Payne: Agencies would not always be in a position to answer on the full extent of matters in their possession, as you put it. I did, myself, read this morning some passing comments in relation to the Global Times

Senator PATRICK: I think it was an Australian that was writing for the Global Times, wasn't it?

Senator Payne: Yes. That is an interesting point to make, Senator.

Senator FAWCETT: Who is generally considered to have editorial control of the Global Times?

Senator Payne: Not the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In fact, as I go on to say, I have found myself on occasion to be a beneficiary of editorials in the Global Times.

CHAIR: As have I.

Senator KITCHING: I have as well.

Senator PATERSON: It's a long list!

Senator Payne: It's a competition for badges of honour!

Unidentified speaker : It's about four or five times for me.

Senator Payne: And it's not just that outlet. I'm not sure that officials can add anything, but, if they wish to, I'll ask them to.

CHAIR: To assist Senator Patrick:

Albanese will not be a charismatic leader but he positively shines compared to Morrison. Such is abysmal state of Oz politics. One would like to see a reset in ties with China, but Oz leadership is weak & US pressure is sustained.

That is, of course, from the Global Times

Senator PATRICK: That's an Australian author.

CHAIR: which is the mouthpiece for that brutal dictatorship.

Senator PATRICK: The minister also mentioned other intelligence that supports his claim of the Chinese Communist Party decision to back Mr Albanese.

Senator Payne: I'm sorry?

Senator PATRICK: Sorry, that's Minister Dutton. I wasn't talking about you.

Senator Payne: I didn't think I had said it.

CHAIR: I know Defence was going to be today, but Defence is tomorrow. So if you've got questions for Defence—

Senator PATRICK: But these are the pre-eminent people who I would expect would have access to all of the information. If the answer is no, then the answer is no. In relation to the other intelligence that was mentioned by the defence minister, is DFAT in possession of anything, or is that also the defence department?

Ms Campbell : I think there are a range of other intelligence agencies, and it might be better to direct those questions to those agencies.

Senator PATRICK: So you don't have anything? What about communication through the Chinese embassy back to Australia? Has there been any communication from the Chinese government that they have made a decision to back Mr Albanese?

Mr Hayhurst : To my knowledge, there's been no communication on the Australian election from the embassy.

Senator PATRICK: What about from other embassies, through another embassy?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure to what you're alluding, but that is not something of which we have any knowledge.

Senator PATRICK: Perhaps from the United States embassy to Australia or from—

Senator Payne: We wouldn't normally disclose sensitive communications. I'm not saying there are or there are not any, but certainly posts in Canberra need to be able to communicate with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, appropriately, in confidence. In saying that, I make absolutely no suggestion about communications or otherwise.

Senator PATRICK: I'm not asking for any country. I'm just—

Senator Payne: I understand that.

Senator PATRICK: I'm not trying to drill into where this might come from. I just want to know whether or not there exist any communiques through our embassies, from any other government, that would suggest that the Chinese Communist Party is backing Mr Albanese and the Australian Labor Party.

Senator Payne: I don't have anything to add.

Senator PATRICK: Any of the other officials?

Ms Campbell : I have nothing to add.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. Has DFAT received any responses from the Chinese government to the claims made by the defence minister last week? If so, what has the Chinese government had to say about that?

Senator Payne: There are responses in the Global Times.

Senator PATRICK: I beg your pardon?

Senator Payne: There is a response, as I understand it, in the Global Times today.

Senator PATRICK: That's the formal way in which DFAT receives advice from the Chinese government, is it?

Senator Payne: No. I was simply saying that that does include a response. A number of communications have been received in recent times, but I will see if the officials have anything to add.

Mr Hayhurst : We have regular exchanges with Chinese officials. They can and do offer critical comments about some public remarks in Australia. I don't know whether they have specifically in relation to this. We'll take it on notice and get back to you.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. I've finished early.

CHAIR: In that case, let's finish early for lunch. The committee is—

Senator AYRES: Chair—

CHAIR: I thought it was too good to be true! Senator Ayres, you have the call.

Senator AYRES: You've had a series of opportunities, Minister, over the course of this morning to reassert the value of what is a decades-long tradition of bipartisanship on national security questions, in the face of what is a sleazy and desperate assault on the national interest by the defence minister and the Prime Minister. I would expect—

CHAIR: Wait a minute. That is—

Senator AYRES: I would expect that a foreign minister—

Senator Payne: Chair—

CHAIR: Order!

Senator AYRES: would stand up for the national interest at this point.

Senator Payne: Well, you should be respecting the chair, Senator!

CHAIR: Senator Ayres, that is a clear—

Senator AYRES: But it is very clear you are not prepared to do that. But that is—

CHAIR: The committee is adjourned!

Senator Payne: I'm sorry, Chair. Before you adjourn, if I may: Senator, you may not have been in the room, but I did have an exchange with Senator Keneally on these matters, in which a very different position was articulated on behalf of the Labor Party. It was a very different position—

Senator AYRES: Well, what the defence minister has done in the house—

Senator Payne: than the one you have just used. I reject your editorial characterisation—

Senator AYRES: is just shameful—absolutely shameful.

Senator Payne: Frankly, the discussion that I had with Senator Keneally, although it was imperfect—as these discussions always are in an estimates exchange—resulted in Senator Keneally making an acknowledgment in this estimates hearing. But, Senator Ayres, it is the case that members and senators, no matter who they are or where they sit, ultimately have to own their own—

Senator AYRES: That's right. That's exactly right.

Senator Payne: remarks and language. And I mean every single one of them.

Senator AYRES: That's right.

CHAIR: Like Senator Lines!

Proceedings suspended from 12:30 to 13:32

CHAIR: The committee is resumed. I can indicate that I'll have a bracket of questions dealing with the matters of Lithuania and the pushback by China. Then I'll have questions on a few issues related to China and Taiwan, moving into Iran and Israel—as in, the Middle East—Africa and then issues of Christian persecution and where we are with the death penalty grouping, of which we are member. That's just so officials can get themselves ready to come downstairs, if need be.

In relation to the pushback that the dictatorship in China has been giving to Lithuania—we had discussions about that earlier this morning—I'm just wondering whether there is, within the world community, a grouping or a coming together of like-minded countries that have suffered this at the hands of the dictatorship in China—countries such as Norway, the Czech Republic and Canada? The list seems to be ever expanding. Is there a grouping of these freedom-loving countries to say, 'Enough is enough; it's time we started looking after each other's backs'?

Ms Campbell : I'll ask Mr Hayhurst to start, but I'll also ask some of our colleagues from the Trade area to be prepared to pop forward as well.

CHAIR: If it is more appropriate, Secretary, for me to ask that under Trade, I'm happy to do that.

Ms Campbell : It's probably best for both. So we'll start here, then later for Trade.

Mr Hayhurst : You mentioned a number of countries that have been on the receiving end of trade action by China. I think it is fair to say that there is a much greater coalescing of like-minded interests around the need for the rules to which countries have committed to be adhered to—that when commitments are made they're met and that the market-based multilateral rules to which all parties have committed are the ways in which to deal with differences. That is apparent in many forums, in many statements and in many ways. There's no single like-minded group, but there's growing contact and cooperation to try and protect those aspects of the international order, the international trading system, on which so many countries rely. So the trend is clearly there. Australia is not the only country, clearly—we know that—and there are many others. The potential is there. So the point is to act clearly on a principled basis so that the trend doesn't deteriorate.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. But, to use a clumsy term, is there a 'victims group' in relation to principled stands on Chinese sanctions or in relation to taking a decision like Lithuania did, in having a Lithuanian trade office in Taiwan or having a Taiwanese trade office in Vilnius?

Mr Hayhurst : 'Victims group' is not a phrase I would use—

CHAIR: I know. It's a clumsy term, but I think you get the drift.

Mr Hayhurst : The answer is: we pursue our interests in that principled way in many forums and in many ways. We talk a lot to other democracies and other countries about the sort of international order we want to see and the principles upon which Australia's policy is based. The Quad is about that agenda. Our work with the European Union is about that agenda. Our work with partners across Asia is about that agenda. Our alliance is about that agenda. There is growing, concerted cooperation between Australia and its partners to push back against efforts to undermine the system on which we've all relied and from which we've all prospered.

CHAIR: Are you aware of the report by Safeguard Defenders about involuntary returns to China?

Mr Hayhurst : I'm not personally acquainted with that report.

CHAIR: In that case, could I encourage you to acquaint yourself with it. That report indicates that Chinese so-called law enforcement agencies are right around the world, either forcibly or under threat, removing people from the countries in which they're in back to China. The assertion is made that 10 Australians have been so removed from Australia. They were told that, if they didn't come with these people back to China, their family in China would be under severe pressure. Australia isn't the only country targeted. I think it's a report that came out on 18 January, so it's relatively new. It would be helpful if you could give us some indication as to the veracity of its commentary. I've got to say that it looks pretty robust.

Mr Hayhurst : We'll follow it up, including with the Australian Federal Police and other security agencies.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. Our travel advice to people travelling to China, has that—

Senator Payne: Can I just ask Ms Lawson to make a very short statement in relation to the Safeguard Defenders piece?

CHAIR: Yes, thank you.

Ms Lawson : We are aware of that report. We have looked into it. It's a different division who looks after those matters, but we are aware of that report.

Senator Payne: We'll provide further information on notice.

CHAIR: Excellent. Thanks, Minister. Travel advice—has that changed at all in relation to travel to the People's Republic of China? I think last time at estimates we were told that people were advised not to, under threat of arbitrary detention.

Ms Logan : The travel advice for China was last updated on 13 January. It currently stands at 'exercise a high degree of caution'. It does make reference to the fact that authorities have detained foreigners on grounds of endangering national security and that Australians may be at risk of arbitrary detention.

CHAIR: That alteration on 13 January, without going into all the details of the wording, in its change it either says it's now safer or less safe from the previous—

Ms Campbell : I think the change didn't include the arbitrary detention. I think that was already there.

Ms Logan : That was already in there.

Ms Campbell : Was the change related to COVID?

Ms Logan : The change related to predeparture requirements for travel to China from Australia having changed.

CHAIR: Right. So the only update on 13 January related to COVID matters?

Ms Logan : And health testing.

CHAIR: Yes. So the previous concerns remain in place?

Ms Campbell : Correct.

CHAIR: That's all I was seeking to confirm. How many countries were engaged in the diplomatic boycott of the Olympics?

Mr Hayhurst : I will ask Ms Lawson if she's got the full list.

Ms Lawson : I don't have a full list with me here, but I could take that on notice and provide that to you.

CHAIR: If you could. Are we able to be advised whether Australia officially sent anybody to the Olympics?

Ms Lawson : As the Prime Minister has indicated, we did not send any ministers or officials to attend the Olympics.

CHAIR: Good. That is good news. I was hoping that would be the answer. Having raised that previously—and I think the department was a bit agnostic about that, but, anyway, it is good that this has occurred. Where are we in relation to issues of representations in relation to the Uighur community, house Christians, Falun Gong practitioners? Have we been able to have any discussion at all with the regime as to human rights matters generally and since the last estimates?

Mr Hayhurst : We have maintained a steady drumbeat of representations on those serious human rights issues. Ms Lawson might have the details. We continue to do that both in China, through our embassy and consulates general, and here in Canberra.

Ms Lawson : Yes, we have consistently raised our concerns about all of those issues. The most recent representations were on 7 January, and that was in Beijing.

CHAIR: What about Australians who are in custody in China at the moment? I'm just trying to have a look. Is there somebody by the name Yang?

Senator Payne: Yes. We've got Yang Hengjun.

CHAIR: Yes, thank you. Is there any update that can be provided on that case, please?

Mr Wilcock : Senator, you will be aware of the minister's statement of one month ago on Yang Jun. The Australian government's amply on the record on the principles and interests at stake for Dr Yang and for Australia—

CHAIR: Any updates that's all—

Mr Wilcock : Yes. Our most recent consular visit to both Dr Yang and Ms Cheng was on 28 January. That's consistent with that pattern of monthly—

CHAIR: That was a face to face?

Mr Wilcock : It was a virtual meeting. It was at the detention centre but over video link in both cases.

CHAIR: Any movement? Status quo—regrettably?

Mr Wilcock : Please understand I have to be mindful of my privacy obligations here, but on the cases themselves the notional deadline for verdict in the case of Dr Yang is 9 April. That could be extended by another three months or it could take place, the verdict that is, the verdict hearing, any time between now and 9 April. We would expect, under the terms of our consular relations agreement with China, to be given a couple of days notice of that hearing. In the case of Ms Cheng, the notional deadline now for her trial is 19 April. As in the case of Dr Yang's verdict, that could take place any time between now and then or indeed be extended.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. Are you able to provide us any updates in relation to the human rights plight of the uighurs?

Ms Lawson : We continue to have very serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang. As you know, we have raised—

CHAIR: With the update, all I'm asking is our view that things have improved, remained status quo or deteriorated?

Ms Lawson : It's very difficult to tell in exactly which direction those abuses have gone, because there is a lack of visibility of what's going on in Xinjiang. That is why we continue to seek the finalisation of the review by High Commissioner Bachelet. It is why we also continue to urge the Chinese authorities to allow an independent visit to Xinjiang so that we can establish exactly what's going on on the ground.

CHAIR: And lack of visibility, I think, unfortunately tells us all we need to know in that regard. What about the plight of Hongkongers and the democratic movement in Hong Kong?

Ms Lawson : As we have made clear on previous occasions, we have concerns over the imposition of the national security law by Beijing without the direct participation of Hong Kong's people, legislation or judiciary. Furthermore, the changes to the electoral system are deeply concerning. They weaken the city's democratic institutions and give greater control to Beijing over the nomination, the selection and the election of candidates.

CHAIR: But have things improved, worsened or remained status quo?

Ms Lawson : I would not say that things have improved. There has been a range of new reforms put in place which further weaken—

CHAIR: Reforms or changes?

Ms Lawson : Well, they are stated as reforms—

CHAIR: They are reforms in Beijing's terms.

Ms Lawson : They are changes to electoral processes which, it is safe to say, have been initiated by or at least Beijing has a great role in putting in place. As you know, there have been continued targeted arrests, impacts on civil society groups and, of course, the forced closure of independent media outlets. We did a joint statement by the Media Freedom Coalition on 9 February expressing concerns about the deterioration of those media freedoms. We expressed our grave concern in the AUKMIN joint statement on 21 January. The minister has also tweeted on our deep concerns about the closure of Stand News and the arrests of journalists.

CHAIR: I will move to Taiwan and the relationship there. On the overflights by the Chinese air force et cetera, have we made any representations to the People's Republic regime as to the inappropriateness of that behaviour, to use a mild term?

Ms Lawson : We have made representations.

CHAIR: When were they last made? You can take it on notice.

Ms Lawson : I'll try to answer it in the course of our discussions.

CHAIR: So I don't steal Senator Patrick's thunder, I will allow him to ask a few questions on Taiwan.

Ms Lawson : I would also note that DFAT issued a statement expressing Australia's concern about the air incursions. That was when the large number of incursions were taking place in October.

Senator PATRICK: In a radio interview in late January, the Chinese ambassador to the US made an unusually explicit reference to the likelihood of war over Taiwan. He said:

The Taiwan issue is the biggest tinderbox between China and the United States. If the Taiwanese authorities, emboldened by the United States, keep going down the road for independence, it most likely [will] involve China and the United States, the two big countries, in a military conflict.

What is DFAT's view in relation to China and Taiwan since October last year and the last estimates? I would be happy to use the chair's categories of improved, status quo or deteriorated.

Mr Hayhurst : Since October, the situation, I don't think, has appreciably deteriorated, but it remains very serious because the mainland side continues to apply significant pressure with the incursions into the air defence identification zone et cetera on Taiwan. The official and public positioning of the authorities in the People's Republic of China is also very clearly hardening. At the same time, in Taiwan, of course, people want to choose their own destiny. That’s the bottom line. I think, structurally, the situation is in a difficult position. Our view has always been that the status quo, which has preserved peace and stability in that region and more broadly, is the thing that needs to be protected and preserved. That's what our diplomacy is geared towards, and the same applies to the United States and others. That includes, I should say, continuing to engage unofficially and providing support in international organisations where statehood is not a prerequisite for membership for Taiwan's international participation. So that's our broad approach. The bottom line is that in category terms it's not significantly different. It was serious then, it remains serious now and we're watching it with concern.

Senator PATRICK: You said the Chinese position was hardening. Is the threatening rhetoric increasing or is that the status quo?

Mr Hayhurst : When I say hardening, I mean it is articulated publicly in ways that suggest that dialogue has limited prospects for success. Clearly, contact between the parties across the strait is one way to seek to lower tensions and move forward on this matter. Again, my broad judgement is that the situation hasn't appreciably deteriorated and neither has it improved since then. Structurally, we're in this difficult position and we're concerned about it.

Senator PATRICK: What about military provocation? That's perhaps slightly more measurable. Have the incursions that Senator Abetz was talking about increased, or has there been a change in the nature of those incursions?

Mr Hayhurst : I'm not sure.

Ms Lawson : There have been daily incursions but in the single digits. I think the biggest number recently was 39 on 23 January. That was the largest number we had seen since the greater number late last year. But they continue.

Senator PATRICK: What about the new development of the relationship between China and Russia and how that may affect the tinderbox?

Mr Hayhurst : Of course we're watching that closely as well. I don't think that has an appreciable effect specifically on the Taiwan situation, but clearly the two countries are coordinating more and signalling a much more overt challenge to the international order. Russia, in effect, now publicly affirms the position of the People's Republic of China on this matter in explicit terms. I don't think it makes a big difference. I think the difference in that partnership manifests itself internationally in other ways of concern to Australia rather than directly on this situation.

Senator PATRICK: There are some milestones—sorry for the project management term. There's the completion of the Olympic Games and the elections in 2024. Do we see that as the potential for perhaps an increase in danger before the election?

Mr Hayhurst : I don't think we are in a position to judge whether the risk will grow. Structurally, it already has some elements about which we are concerned. Elections in Taiwan—as there has been in the past, there is growing tension there. But with so much at stake, and the status quo helping preserve stability in the region, there is no reason directly for that to be challenged, in our view. So I don't want to speculate whether it's before '24 or after the Olympics, the People’s Republic of China does not need to up the ante in ways that apply coercive and other pressure on Taiwan.

Senator PATRICK: I note that there have been some sales of Howitz' from the United States into Taiwan in the last month or so—$100 million support contract relating to upgrading patriot missile systems. Is that something we publicly support? Secondly, are we in a position where we support export applications for military products to Taiwan?

Mr Hayhurst : Australia doesn't sell arms to Taiwan. The United States, consistent with its own long-standing policies on Taiwan, has a policy of selling arms. We don't have a direct view on those transactions but, of course, we do have a strong interest in Taiwan's security and stability and in the status quo across the straits.

Senator PATRICK: My final question: in our communications with China and Taiwan, what are we doing to discourage any sort of military conflict that might possibly be on our horizon and at what levels?

Senator Payne: We are absolutely explicit that conflict is in no-one's interests. In all of our public and diplomatic engagement, that is our clear view. We make regular representations to China on the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, in the interests, as you say, of a secure, stable Indo-Pacific that is based on the rule of law.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you, Minister, and thank you, Chair.

Senator VAN: Do you think the Ukraine-Russia situation at all complicates the situation across the Taiwan Strait? Is one country looking at another to see whether aggression might be rewarded or pushed back against?

Mr Hayhurst : I don't think there is a direct connection. Clearly, in any situation where people use force to resolve disputes across international borders and so on—there are some differences obviously between the two—there are lots of things to be concerned about but a direct and immediate impact on the situation on Taiwan isn't one of them at this time.

Senator RICE: Minister, obviously most of the geopolitical negotiations you undertake, or at the very least many, are very complex and delicate, and I want to acknowledge the work that you put into those processes and thank the departmental staff for the many hours they spend on very sensitive and delicate work with major international powers. Do you think that the defence minister is putting that work and those delicate relationships at risk when he politicises national security to try and run a khaki election?

Senator Payne: I don't agree with your characterisation. The range of issues that you have identified are ones that the government takes very seriously right across the cabinet, led by the Prime Minister. I acknowledge the points you have made in relation to my own approach.

Senator RICE: Does the defence minister consult with you before commenting publicly on international relations?

Senator Payne: Mr Dutton is the Australian Minister for Defence and, in that role, has a range of responsibilities and opportunities through which he exercises his ministerial undertakings. I don't think you have characterised the relationship in the way that I would, and, equally, I would say that having had that role myself in the past, it is the case that the defence and foreign ministers work extremely closely together, overwhelmingly, and in close concert with the Prime Minister.

Senator RICE: Minister Dutton specifically clarified after a question on House of Representatives question time that he was reflecting on the Chinese government and on the actions of the Chinese government. Did he consult with you before he chose to reflect on the Chinese government as a political strategy in the parliament?

Senator Payne: I do not discuss my conversations with my cabinet colleagues.

Senator RICE: Yes or no—did he consult with you?

Senator Payne: You cannot direct me how to answer a question. I don't discuss my conversations with cabinet colleagues in public.

Senator RICE: I will take that as a no.

Senator Payne: I said you cannot direct me how to answer the question and you cannot presume either.

Senator RICE: In allying ourselves with India as part of the Quad strategy, is there a point past which human rights abuses in India would cause us to reconsider how close that relationship is?

Senator Payne: I am not going to answer a hypothetical of that nature. Australia's growing relationship with India is extremely important to Australia, including with the signing of a comprehensive strategic partnership in early 2020 between prime ministers Modi and Morrison, including the work that trade minister, Minister Tehan, has been undertaking in recent weeks, particularly on the development of a trade agreement. That doesn't prevent us from raising issues of concern with our partners in India; they may be human rights issues, may be others. India is a vibrant democracy; it has a very robust culture of public discourse. I know that there are issues of concern in relation to human rights, and you can rest assured matters of that nature are raised in our interactions with India.

Senator RICE: Is there any point at which we would reconsider that relationship?

Senator Payne: That is an absolute hypothetical.

Senator RICE: Gregory Stanton of Genocide Watch has warned that genocide could very well happen India. Presumably that would lead us to re-evaluate our relationship, if genocide were occurring in a Quad ally?

Senator Payne: I don't think it advances any cause to engage in a hypothetical discussion of that nature.

Senator RICE: But there is plenty of evidence of abuse of human rights that is currently going on in India. I mean, would national leaders enabling and permitting hate speech and ethnic violence be enough to give you pause about our relationship with a Quad ally?

Senator Payne: I have set out in my statements areas in which we do raise concerns with India through our post and through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade here in Canberra.

Senator RICE: It is one thing to raise concerns but if those concerns are not being listened to and we have ongoing abuse of human rights, at what point would we actually say we have not got a robust, thriving democracy that is consistent with the rule of law and reconsider India's role as a Quad ally?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to engage in hypotheticals.

Senator RICE: What is the current level of concern you're raising with the Indian government about the abuse of human rights in India and in Kashmir?

Senator Payne: What do you mean?

Senator RICE: There is the potential of genocide. There are the issues of the crackdown on speech.

Senator Payne: You are making statements. I am not—

Senator RICE: There is the detention of people arbitrarily. There is what is going on in Kashmir.

Senator Payne: You're making statements, Senator, and I am not agreeing with your statements. You're perfectly entitled to make them. What I am saying to you is that, in our engagement with the Indian government, both in Canberra, in New Delhi and bilaterally, where matters are required to be discussed, we have those conversations.

Senator RICE: Are you concerned about the abuses of human rights in India by the Indian government?

Senator Payne: There are a number of matters which we have discussed, Senator, and I've spoken about them on the record here before.

Senator RICE: I want to move on to China. How many Australian citizens and permanent residents are arbitrarily detained in China currently?

Senator Payne: I'll ask officials from our consular section to answer that question. There are a number of consular cases which we are engaged on, some of which have already been discussed here today. I would also note that, on occasions where there is detention of dual citizens, that does add complexity to our ability to both assist and, on occasion, be aware of legal processes, but Mr Wilcock may wish to add to that.

Mr Wilcock : On the exact number of Australians detained in China, I would need to come back to you. You used the term 'arbitrarily detained', Senator. We refer to the detention of Dr Yang Jun as arbitrary detention.

Senator RICE: Our consideration is their arbitrary detention, and my question did absolutely want to include dual citizens who may not be recognised, and whom I know aren't recognised, as Australian citizens in China.

Senator Payne: Mr Wilcock is correct, Senator: we have certainly regarded the case of Dr Yang Jun as arbitrary detention.

Senator RICE: We've obviously got the report of the individual detained in Hong Kong. Is the government aware of any other Australian citizens detained in Hong Kong under the national security law?

Mr Wilcock : Under the national security law, no, Senator. We're aware of one other Australian, a dual national again, detained in Hong Kong. This is on criminal charges, not national security charges. That person has been deemed by the local authorities to be Chinese and not Australian. The Chinese authorities typically will give us consular access when the individual enters China on their Australian passport.

Senator RICE: But, even where we haven't got access to them, you're saying there's one other Australian citizen who, you understand, is detained under the national security law?

Mr Wilcock : No, one other Australian detained in Hong Kong not under the new national security offences; on a criminal matter.

Senator Payne: I might ask Mr Wilcock to speak briefly to the nature of the travel advice.

Senator RICE: Can we not do that, because I've only got 20 minutes. I'm very happy to have that information tabled. I did—

Senator Payne: Your priorities, Senator.

Senator RICE: Yes. I did want to go to whether the Australian government had made any representations to the UN Secretary-General regarding his attendance at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Senator Payne: Not that I'm specifically aware of, Senator.

Mr Hayhurst : We might have to take that on notice, Senator.

Senator RICE: What representations has the government made to the IOC regarding the disappearance and censorship of tennis player Peng Shuai and the IOC's involvement in Chinese government propaganda alleging that everything is fine when others like the International Tennis Association haven't been able to get in contact with Peng Shuai at all?

Senator Payne: I'll ask Ms Lawson to add anything that she wishes to. Those matters have been raised by the IOC; I don't have details with me.

Ms Lawson : We don't have details about the IOC. We have raised the case of Peng Shuai with the Chinese government, but I'll have to come back to you on that specific question.

Senator RICE: And whether we've made presentations to the IOC. You said you've raised it with the Chinese government, but it's the—

Senator Payne: Ms Lawson said we'll come back to you on that.

Ms Lawson : I'm not aware of any representations.

Senator RICE: You're not aware of any and you'll get back to me. I'm going to move on to your meeting, Minister, with the ASEAN chair. When you met with the ASEAN chair you said you made representations about Sean Turnell, and Hun Sen then boasted about securing his release before apologising with egg on his face. Did we commit anything—what did we commit in order to secure Hun Sen's advocacy?

Sen ator Payne: I don't understand your question.

Senator RICE: We had Hun Sen saying that he was advocating to the Myanmar junta to release Sean Turnell. He claimed that he had secured his release and then he had to backflip, and obviously that hasn't occurred.

Senator Payne: He indicated that those statements were made in error, I understand, and clarified that. In my discussions with the Prime Minister, we indicated that we had been working assiduously through ASEAN, particularly through the previous chair, Brunei, and other members of ASEAN, in advocacy for Professor Turnell and reiterated our expectation and our hope that, as the incoming chair of ASEAN, both my counterpart, Prak Sokhonn, the Cambodian foreign minister, and the leadership in Cambodia would continue that advocacy which had been so strongly taken up by the second foreign minister of Brunei.

Senator RICE: Did we make any commitments as to things that we would or wouldn't say about ASEAN, about actions in Myanmar, in order to secure that advocacy from Hun Sen?

Senator Payne: There was no requirement to make any undertakings of any sort.

Senator RICE: What did Hun Sen communicate to the Australian government about his advocacy to the junta?

Senator Payne: I don't have the details of what may have been communicated via post in Phnom Penh with me, but he did make a public statement to say that he had advocated for Professor Turnell's release.

Senator RICE: Was there anything further that he communicated to the Australian government?

Senator Payne: Not that I'm aware of.

Senator RICE: I want to move on to the Magnitsky legislation. Since the passage of the Magnitsky legislation through the Australian parliament, what steps have been taken to implement it?

Senator Payne: Regulations came into force, if my memory is correct, on 21 December. I am working with the department. We've met twice since then on next steps in relation to the application of any sanctions.

Senator RICE: So all of the necessary regulations are in place?

Senator Payne: That is my understanding, and, as I said, they came into operation on 21 December. There is no further process that is required in terms of the operations of the system.

Senator RICE: With those regulations in place, has the department been engaging with civil society in terms of information that they may be able to bring to the government's attention in terms of who would be sanctioned?

Ms Klugman : There have been conversations with civil society. The minister has made clear that her intention is to establish some mechanisms by which the department can engage a bit more regularly and specifically on the Magnitsky sanctions regimes with civil society. Whether we do that as an adjunct to our NGO human rights consultations, which I think you're aware of and which go back some considerable way, we will provide advice, which we haven't yet done, to the minister on what we think is the best structure to ensure that those consultations can take place and that they're timed in a way that is relevant to the processes through which the minister will determine listings under the—

Senator RICE: So you've had some engagement with civil society since the legislation came into place. What has that engagement been? It hasn't been structured, you're basically saying so far.

Ms Klugman : I'll ask my colleague Natasha Smith to come to the table, but, as I said and I think as you know, we do have established fora for consultations. The one that I think is most relevant, and through which there have been some structured discussions, is our NGO consultations on human rights.

Senator RICE: How often do they occur?

Ms Klugman : They're an annual exercise. I could be corrected—

Senator RICE: Do you think that would be a sufficient timing for this legislation, or would you think you would need to have more regular consultations on this?

Ms Klugman : We are looking at that now and we will give advice on that to the foreign minister. We haven't done that yet.

Ms Smith : We haven't had any formalised engagement with civil society since the legislation and regulations have come into effect, but, as Ms Klugman said, we have plans to make sure we have mechanisms in place for that and we're working through that at the moment.

Senator RICE: Have we progressed as far as having a list of possible people to sanction?

Senator Payne: Senator, it's not in the interests of the sanctions process to speculate about those who may be sanctioned. It enables a degree of avoidance that I don't think is useful for the application of the sanctions.

Senator RICE: But even without saying who is on that list.

Senator Payne: But of course I have in both of my discussions with senior departmental representatives, including the deputy secretary, Ms Smith and others, engaged in those discussions.

Senator RICE: So you're in the midst of preparing a possible list of people to sanction?

Senator Payne: I don't want to characterise it like that. I've met twice with the department in terms of the options that we have and next steps. The department will prepare advice to me based on those discussions.

Senator RICE: Do you have any expectation of the time line as to when you may have a list of possible people to sanction?

Senator Payne: Not that I would apply here, no.

Senator RICE: So it's not a priority?

Senator Payne: No. It's an absolute priority. That's why I've met twice with the department in recent weeks.

Senator RICE: There are a lot of people in civil society and people who are extremely concerned about the human rights abuses that would be covered under Magnitsky legislation. They are wanting to see action. They haven't seen action since that legislation was passed. It would be really appropriate—

Senator Payne: The regulations came into operation on 21 December. We are working with the department. They are preparing advice to me to take the next steps in relation to the Magnitsky sanctions.

Senator RICE: Thank you. I now want to move on to Palestine. I know there was some discussion this morning about the Amnesty International report.

CHAIR: There's one minute left. We might go an extra two.

Senator RICE: Thank you. I want to start first of all with the Israeli government's unlawful designation of six Palestinian civil society human rights organisations as terrorist organisations. What's the government's response to the Israeli government's refusal to provide its evidence to the groups affected? Has the Australian government been provided with any evidence?

Mr Innes-Brown : We continue to monitor this case. We did ask for some information on what the basis of those designations was. I think we covered that in the previous estimates. We have received some information.

Senator RICE: Have you received what the Israeli government claims to be the evidence?

Mr Innes-Brown : We've received some information from them. Whether it's all the evidence or not, I don't know.

Senator RICE: That's why I'm trying to differentiate. They refused to provide that evidence to the groups affected, so do you feel you have been given that evidence?

Mr Innes-Brown : I feel like I've been given some information, whether it's the entirety of the basis of the actions they've taken, I don't know.

Senator RICE: Have you requested further information from them?

Mr Innes-Brown : Not recently. They provided some information to us. They obviously felt that what they provided us was what they could tell us, and we have received it.

Se nator RICE: Are you satisfied with that evidence? You haven't requested any more. Do you still think it is an inappropriate and unacceptable thing for them to have done?

Mr Innes-Brown : We are not experts on the Israeli legal system, and it's not really for us to judge whether the information they've provided us meets the test of Israeli law. I'm not qualified to do that.

Senator RICE: So the Australian government and DFAT are not willing to call on Israel to immediately revoke these designations?

Mr Innes-Brown : Not at this stage; it's a matter for Israel. Australia is not a party to the issue.

Senator RICE: What's the government and the DFAT's view about the legality of the Israeli government applying domestic antiterrorism statute against civilians in occupied territory? Doesn't that constitute a violation of international humanitarian law?

Mr Innes-Brown : I'm not sure that I'd accept that characterisation. As I said a minute or two ago, we are not qualified to make declarations or decisions about the applicability of actions that Israel has taken in accordance with—

Senator RICE: Therefore, you're not going to criticise them. In terms of the Amnesty report and allegations of apartheid, in response to the report both the foreign minister and the Prime Minister indicated that they don't agree with the report's characterisation of Israel. Putting aside the legal definition, what specific facts about human rights does the government believe Amnesty has got wrong in this report? Have you done your own analysis?

Mr Innes-Brown : As I noted earlier, there are a number of issues that from time to time we take up with Israel and that we, the Australian government, feel we should be taking up. We've done so quite recently, as we have done over a period of time, and we will continue to do so as necessary. It's for our own assessment of the situation, including information provided by our post, to take up issues that we see are relevant.

Senator RICE: Are there any specific issues in the Amnesty report that the Australian government believes Amnesty got wrong?

Mr Innes-Brown : As I said, we continue to take up issues of concern and we will continue to do so.

Senator RICE: That wasn't my question, with all due respect. My question was: are there any specific issues that the government believes Amnesty got wrong in their report?

Mr Innes-Brown : We're in danger here of just repeating what we said earlier this morning about our view on some of the phraseology that's been used in the report. But there are some categories of issues that we are concerned about, and we do take them up in our engagement with Israel.

Senator RICE: Could you take on notice, if there are particular issues that you feel Amnesty have got wrong in this report, to tell us what they are?

Mr Innes-Brown : Sure.

Senator KENEALLY: I have some questions about recent concerning activities at the Australian embassy in Bangkok. I understand from media reports that a former locally engaged staff member at the Australian embassy in Bangkok was arrested by Royal Thai Police on 6 January after cameras were discovered in the women's bathrooms in the embassy. Is that correct?

Ms Campbell : The chief operating officer will provide details on this matter.

Mr Hudson : Yes, that is correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Was the person an employee of the Australian embassy when he was arrested?

Mr Hudson : Yes, they were a locally engaged employee in that embassy.

Senator KENEALLY: I presume he's no longer an employee.

Mr Hudson : That's a correct presumption.

Senator KENEALLY: When did his employment with the embassy cease?

Mr Hudson : On the same day that he was arrested.

Senator KENEALLY: I appreciate that there is an ongoing Royal Thai Police investigation into these events and that the department is likely to be limited in its comments on these concerning developments. But are you able to confirm whether any other embassy staff are being investigated by police in relation to these hidden cameras?

Mr Hudson : It's limited to this individual.

Senator KENEALLY: Will the Royal Thai Police be allowed into the Bangkok Australian embassy compound to complete their investigation?

Mr Hudson : I can confirm that we are absolutely cooperating with the Royal Thai Police and that if that's a necessary part of their investigation then, yes, that will be facilitated.

Senator KENEALLY: Do we have any indication of where the investigation is up to? Do we know when this individual might face court, for example?

Mr Hudson : I don't have a sense of that at this stage, but it's something we are closely monitoring.

Senator KENEALLY: Are you aware of whether the accused has written to some of the complainants and asked them to withdraw their complaints and offered them compensation to do so?

Senator Payne: I was unaware of that, so I expect Mr Hudson's not aware.

Mr Hudson : I'm not specifically aware of that.

Senator Payne: But we will chase that up and see if that's been part of media reporting. If any information we have would be helpful, we're happy to chase that up. Clearly, that would not be what we're looking for.

Se nator KENEALLY: I've seen reports that Royal Thai Police have said that the Australian government has asked them not to share any information about their investigation. I appreciate that you have given us some information today, so thank you for that. It's also understood that the accused was told by the embassy that the ongoing investigation would be kept private. I get that there are privacy considerations about the complainants, but is there any decision not to comment publicly or to speak to this investigation? It seems that there demonstrably is not, given you're answering that question.

Senator Payne: No. In fact we have no tolerance for this sort of appalling behaviour.

Se nator KENEALLY: Thank you, Minister. When did the embassy staff first become aware of the hidden cameras?

Mr Hudson : The first time we became aware of it—I'll use the term 'indirectly', and I don't mean to be coy—indirectly was, I believe, in August. However, at that time the extent of the matters was not understood. There was a piece of equipment.

Senator Payne: I don't think that we should go into the details of that, if I could suggest that, given we have an ongoing investigation. I think we should be very careful about this.

Senator KENEALLY: Because of the Royal Thai Police investigation?

Senator Payne: Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: I appreciate that very much.

Senator Payne: Is it possible that I could suggest, in light of the live investigation by the Royal Thai Police, that my department would be very willing to provide you with a private briefing, to the extent that we are able, on these matters to avoid any prejudice.

Sena tor KENEALLY: Thank you.

Senator Payne: Given that there is a different legal system, I think it is important to be prudent.

Senator KENEALLY: I appreciate that, and I believe that I, or Senator Wong when she returns from leave, may well wish to take you up on that.

Senator Payne: Thanks.

Senator KENEALLY: I might ask a couple of questions that don't go to the investigation itself, then.

Senator Payne: Or the details of the events.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes. When was the minister advised of the existence of these hidden cameras in the embassy?

Mr Hudson : I don't have those specific dates with me, so I'll have to take that on notice.

Senator KENEALLY: The minister was advised, though? I presume the minister didn't find out from media reports.

Senator Payne: No, he did not find out from media reports.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Also, is the department aware of whether the Australian Federal Police is planning to launch any investigations into these incidents?

Mr Hudson : My understanding is that these matters are under investigation by the Royal Thai Police.

Senator KENEALLY: Is the department's security branch investigating any matters in relation to these hidden cameras?

Mr Hudson : We made some initial inquiries, but the matters are now under investigation by the Royal Thai Police.

Senator KENEALLY: Have the security staff or the department itself recommended any changes to security procedures in relation to this embassy or, indeed, any of our embassies?

Mr Hudson : I think it's fair to say that when an incident occurs, whether it be of this nature or any nature, we take that as an opportunity to re-examine our risk assessments, our protocols and our processes and look for opportunities to make improvements. That may be in a particular location. Where there could be broader applicability, we may apply that to other locations.

Senator Payne: We probably wouldn't want to discuss that too much, though.

Mr Hudson : No. That's why I'm being slightly broad in my response.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. I want to refer to an ABC report on these developments. The report is from 5 February and states:

A government employee with knowledge of the incident told the ABC employees at the embassy were shocked and shaken.

"Female staff, Thai and Australian, are very anxious," the person said.

"Some of the women don't feel safe to stay there. They feel compromised and threatened."

The government employee added that embassy staff wanted more support to "manage the serious psychological impacts of this matter, or even the possibility of serious security breaches".

What support has the department provided to the staff since this incident happened?

Ms Campbell : As we said earlier, we take these matters very seriously and we're very concerned about them. A range of support has been provided to our staff at the embassy, including in-country counselling support and virtual support when we had travel restrictions in place and couldn't physically travel over there. The department has 24/7 access to both our external counselling services and our in-house staff support office. Now that travel is slightly easier, in the next few weeks our in-house staff support team will also be travelling across to Bangkok. There has been a series of ongoing support provided in addition to the onsite support that both the head of mission and the deputy head of mission have been providing staff.

Senator KENEALLY: This incident took place on 6 January and media reporting was on 5 February. When did you start deploying those support teams—for example, the in-country support?

Mr Hudson : These have been deployed over a period of time. They weren't in response to a media report.

Senator KENEALLY: So before 5 February?

Mr Hudson : I don't have the specific date on which we commenced those processes, but the supports have been in place for some time and precede the media reporting you referred to.

Senator KENEALLY : In response to that media reporting, did you add anything or survey staff to see if they felt they were getting adequate support?

Mr Hudson : It's an ongoing approach to providing support, and we will continue providing that support. As I indicated, the travel restrictions now are not as great as they were. Our dedicated family support area from here in Canberra will be travelling across in the next few weeks. That will be an additional thing that we would have liked to have done earlier, but we had to supplement those arrangements with in-country support, given the travel restrictions.

Senator KENEALLY: Secretary, have you spoken directly with any of the Australian-based or local staff in the Bangkok embassy who have been impacted by these events?

Ms Campbell : I haven't spoken to the staff, but I have spoken to the head of mission who is managing this issue. Often, rather than have somebody from Canberra come in, it's better to deal with it locally. I spoke with him about the supports that were in place. We talked about our specialist support team from Canberra visiting, and that's what Mr Hudson has just spoken about.

Senator KENEALLY: So you haven't spoken directly to any of the women who have been impacted by this?

Ms Campbell : No, I haven't spoken to the women who have impacted. But the deputy head of mission, who is a female officer and a very experienced officer, has spoken with them. She's there on the ground, she knows them, she understands some of their circumstances and she has been there providing that support.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, I understand you're going to be stopping in Bangkok on the way home. Will you be taking the opportunity to speak to some of the staff impacted by this?

Senator Payne: That had been the intention for return travel. It's no longer feasible to make Thailand the return location. It had been put in my schedule that I would have that meeting. In the absence of that, I will determine an alternate approach to engage. Unfortunately, the Thai leg of the travel has shifted.

Senator KENEALLY: I apologise if I missed that detail, but I'd heard this morning that you were stopping in Bangkok on the way home. In terms of the department more broadly, what training is provided to DFAT staff on the disclosures of sexual misconduct?

Mr Hudson : More broadly than this matter, this is something that we take quite seriously. The department has a very clear sexual harassment policy and response protocols, if I could describe them in that way, where we encourage and support people to raise concerns they have, either with their supervisors or directly with the specialised HR area here in Canberra. We take all of those matters seriously, and, where we get those sorts of reports, we work with individuals to understand the best approach we should take in response to their concerns. That may include, for example, formal investigations and those sorts of things. It depends on the circumstances.

Senator KENEALLY: I appreciate that. I'm trying to understand what kind of training is provided to staff in terms of receiving such disclosures, for example.

Ms Campbell : Our staff, Senator?

Senator KENEALLY: Yes.

Ms Campbell : We have our HR staff and we also have a specialist support—I am trying to remember the name of the area—

Mr Hudson : The staff support area.

Ms Campbell : A staff support area, which is headed by a psychologist as well, so we have a psychologist on staff to assist with this. The actual training—I think I'd have to take notice what that training is, but I know in previous organisations where I've worked we've had staff training provided by Lifeline, in particular, here in Canberra, where Lifeline do a course about receiving those complaints. So I'll just check what we've got here, and we will get back to you on notice, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: Right. Could you also check for what training is provided to locally engaged staff?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator K ENEALLY: I would appreciate that, thank you.

Ms Campbell : And I expect the training might be different in each location, depending on the cultural sensitivities of those environments.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you do training here for DFAT's Canberra based staff?

Ms Campbell : We will check on what that—

Mr Hudson : I will confirm the specifics of what we actually provide.

Senator Payne: Yes, we do, Senator, and we'll provide you with the details on notice.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. I don't again want to ask about the investigation itself but rather, thinking ahead, I imagine there's going to be a level of interest in the court proceedings, both for those directly involved and more broadly, and I'm sure many back in Australia will be also seeking to follow this story. Do you have any expectation or understanding of what the media access will be to the trial process?

Ms Campbell : No, Senator, I don't think we have that at this time. That's a matter for the Thai authorities. We will, of course, be seeking to have access—we the department—so that we are informed, so that we can inform our ministers but also that we can inform our staff to make sure they're aware of what's going on.

Senator KENEALLY: Are you seeking that through your counterparts in Thailand?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Do you understand you'll be able to attend the hearings?

Senator Payne: Senator, I think we're way ahead of ourselves here, in terms of the process of the investigation. Given the individual was arrested and charged just over a month and a bit ago, I think we are slightly ahead of ourselves. But I would assure you and the committee and the impacted staff that, through the ambassador and his team, and through the team here in Canberra, particularly Mr Hudson and the secretary, we will be fully engaged with the Thai authorities and sensitive to the sorts of issues that I understand you're raising, particularly in relation to any re-publicising or republishing of the events that have led to this arrest and charge.

Senator KENEALLY: I note that you've taken—and I appreciate it—a number of questions on notice. Could I add a few other things. Is there an independent complaints mechanism that DFAT staff can access?

Mr Hudson : Staff can make complaints through to the HR area based here in Canberra. So that is independent from the place in which they work, if that makes sense.

Senator KENEALLY: Right. Has the department engaged any external experts to review its processes of reporting disclosures of sexual assault and misconduct?

Ms Campbell : My recollection—I am looking around for someone who knows—is that this may have been done a couple of years ago or 18 months ago. I'm recalling that in my incoming secretary's brief that there were some items about the fact that there had been a recent review of mechanisms. I'll chase that up in the next break, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you so much, Ms Campbell. Thank you, Chair. I do think that Senator Ayres has some questions; I'd like your management.

CHAIR: Thanks. Senator Ayres has the call.

Senator AYRES: Secretary, I have a series of questions about an article in the Daily Telegraph from 4 January entitled 'UK High Commissioner George Brandis in diplomatic crash in Scotland'. It might just be you who's dealing with this matter.

Ms Campbell : I'm dealing with it with Mr Hudson's assistance.

Senator AYRES: Perfect. The article reports that nobody was injured in this crash—is that right?

Ms Campbell : That is correct. That was, of course, the first question we asked when we were alerted to it on the day of the crash, and we were very pleased to hear that no-one had been injured.

Senator AYRES: According to the report, Mr Brandis was trying to catch up to Mr Morrison's motorcade during the Glasgow climate summit after the high commissioner refused to take the staff bus. According to the report, security officers in two Metropolitan Police cars saw Mr Brandis's official car attempting to join the motorcade and took defensive measures to head off the perceived threat, so the other cars involved in the smash were the two police cars. The article reports that there is a diplomatic investigation underway. I assume that means an internal investigation—is that the case?

Ms Campbell : I have instigated an investigation into what occurred because of the work health and safety implications of the incident. There was a preliminary investigation at post, which was a little narrower. I've instigated that from here in Canberra. We have engaged a legal firm to conduct an investigation of the incident. That investigation is not yet complete.

Senator AYRES: There was a preliminary investigation that you engaged. Can you tell me who the firm is?

Ms Campbell : Ashurst.

Senator AYRES: Did you deploy, or have you deployed, any security advisors or anybody else from Canberra to the UK to investigate?

Ms Campbell : No.

Senator AYRES: So the investigation is interviews over the phone and a document review?

Ms Campbell : Ashurst have staff in London. The investigation will be conducted from here, but they will use staff that they have in London to do that. We have a regional security advisor located in London, and, of course, there are other staff. It's a large mission in London. It's a hub of administrative-type support, so there are technical and security advisors already in London.

Senator AYRES: The preliminary investigation gave you cause for enough concern to then launch this more formal investigation?

Ms Campbell : No.

Senator AYRES: Explain to me how you got from the preliminary investigation to this broader—

Ms Campbell : The preliminary investigation had been commenced at post. I didn't think it would be broad enough to deal with the matters at hand, so I asked for a more comprehensive investigation to be conducted from here in Canberra.

Senator AYRES: When is the investigation going to conclude?

Ms Campbell : I'm hoping in the next short period, but of course we've had some disruption, particularly with omicron and COVID in London, that has slowed us down somewhat.

Senator AYRES: The Telegraph quotes a diplomatic source who said, 'George was late and was telling his driver to hurry up and catch up with the motorcade.' Did your preliminary investigation suggest that that was the case?

Ms Campbell : There's been lots of speculation, and I have not engaged with that speculation. That's why I asked for the investigation by Ashurst to collect the facts and to determine what happened, and that's when I'll be able to consider what actually occurred.

Senator AYRES: So you won't be able to say at this stage whether any speed limits were exceeded or other traffic laws broken?

Ms Campbell : Not at this stage.

Senator AYRES: That's a matter for this inquiry that, to use Mr Gaetjens's phrase, is weeks, not months away—is that right?

Ms Campbell : I will have to engage again with Ashurst. They are doing their best, but they are limited because of some of the restrictions we've had in place. Some of our staff in London have been working from home rather than in the high commission, so I will engage and get back to you on the timing on when we're expecting that.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me whether Mr Brandis was supposed to be on the bus along with everybody else?

Ms Campbell : I'm unaware of that, so I can't comment on that. I don't usually get into that level of detail.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me whether Mr Brandis's driver had been rostered to work that day?

Ms Campbell : I am unaware of that as well, and one of the reasons why I haven't delved into the detail is so that I can look at the facts when they come in on the investigation.

Senator AYRES: So nothing has been put to you on this point before?

Ms Campbell : I have purposely asked for it not to be put to me so that I don't have to speculate and so that I can have a factual basis, and that's why I've asked Ashurst to do a review—so we can get the fact rather than gossip and speculation, which sometimes occurs around events.

Senator AYRES: What about you, Mr Hudson?

Mr Hudson : I wasn't in the department at the time these matters occurred.

Senator AYRES: Who was?

Ms Campbell : Ms Sidhu was the chief operating officer at the time.

Senator AYRES: Is she here?

Ms Campbell : She's not here. She is on leave at the moment before a new position.

Senator AYRES: I want to know whether the driver had been rostered to work that morning, when he was notified that he would be required to drive that day, whether he had been rostered to drive Mr Brandis the day before and, if so, what time the driver finished that evening. I assume those questions will be taken on notice. Do we have a copy of Mr Brandis's work program from the evening before?

Ms Campbell : I don't have that copy, no.

Senator AYRES: You can't tell me why Mr Brandis or his driver was unable to inform the Prime Minister's security detail that they wanted to join the motorcade?

Ms Campbell : I expect these details, which you've just outlined, will be part of the investigation report once we receive it.

Senator AYRES: It's pretty extraordinary that we're not in a position to understand some of these basic details. I understand what you're saying to me, Ms Campbell, about taking a disinterested approach, in its proper sense—I don't mean that in its pejorative sense—but this has been the subject of some public discussion for a while.

Ms Campbell : It has, Senator.

Senator AYRES: It's pretty difficult to be in a position where you can't furnish these details. Has there been any discussion with the Metropolitan Police about paying for the damage?

Ms Campbell : The deputy head of mission contacted the Metropolitan Police the day after the incident, I think, and offered to compensate them. They declined that offer in order that we have a continuing good relationship with the Metropolitan Police.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me when Mr Brandis was appointed as High Commissioner to the United Kingdom?

Ms Campbell : My recollection is that it was in May 2018, but I'll just get someone to see whether we can get the exact date for you, Senator.

Senator Payne: I think it's about that.

Ms Campbell : Correct.

Senator AYRES: The preliminary investigation—that was a report provided to you as the secretary?

Ms Campbell : The preliminary investigation was provided to post, and it dealt with a very—

Senator AYRES: Sorry, I missed that last bit.

Ms Campbell : Sorry, to the high commission. It was a pretty narrow investigation about the actions of the driver.

Senator AYRES: What did it say?

Ms Campbell : I haven't read it. Again, that is because I wanted to have a more complete investigation.

Senator AYRES: Is there somebody in the building who has read it?

Ms Campbell : Have you read it?

Mr Hudson : I don't have a copy of it, Senator.

Ms Campbell : The post has explained to me that it was quite narrow. It was about the actual incident and it didn't talk to a number of other parties who were involved in the incident, and we thought it best that we engage with those parties before coming to a view.

Senator AYRES: If there were a motor vehicle accident in any other situation, you wouldn't engage Ashurst to do a review. What is it about this situation that's made you decide to engage one of our larger, top-end law firms to investigate?

Ms Campbell : Depending on the circumstances, I have engaged Ashurst in the past to do reviews. Because this one involved the high commissioner in the Prime Minister's motorcade with the Metropolitan police, I thought it warranted appropriate attention. And, given that there has been, subsequently, media speculation, at the time I felt that it was very important that we got the facts sorted early.

Senator AYRES: Can you copy a table of the preliminary report a bit later in the day?

Ms Campbell : I will review it. I think there are some privacy issues in it, but we will have a look at that for you.

Senator AYRES: What privacy issues could there be—the driver's name perhaps? You could delete that for us, I assume.

Ms Campbell : I'm concerned that the preliminary investigation may not be fair on other people who may be named in the investigation, because they were not given the opportunity to respond. So I don't think there has been due process, and, therefore, I don't think putting it in the public arena would be fair to anyone. That's one of the reasons why I have asked for the Ashurst investigation—so that we can ensure that you process is applied.

Senator AYRES: When did you first engage with Ashurst?

Mr Hudson : In January this year. I believe they were officially appointed on 11 January.

Ms Campbell : I had asked for it before Christmas, and I think we were discussing it before the final bits and pieces were put together.

Senator AYRES: So the department engaged with Ashurst after the Daily Telegraph article.

Ms C ampbell : No, I had engaged—

Senator AYRES: Your colleague said they were engaged—

Ms Campbell : That was when they were officially engaged.

Senator AYRES: on the 11th. You're saying—

Ms Campbell : I might just clarify.

Senator AYRES: you did what prior to Christmas?

Ms Campbell : I'll clarify. I think Mr Hudson said that they were engaged, legally signed up, in January. I had engaged with the department in December to ensure that they we were able to get a firm to do this, noting the challenges of them being in London and wanting to make sure that we had people on the ground—did they have people in London that could do this. So it was well before the Daily Telegraph article.

Senator AYRES: How much will the Ashurst investigation cost?

Ms Campbell : I don't know whether we've got an estimate or not.

Mr Hudson : No, I don't have with me details of the contract for Ashurst, but there is a contract and there is an assessment of costs. And that was the date I provided earlier—apologies for using the same term, 'engaged'.

Senator AYRES: No, no, I wanted to ask carefully so we got to the right answer. Can you provide, over the next short space of time, the likely cost, and come back to us during the day?

Ms Campbell : We'll take that on notice.

Senator AYRES: I assume that's something that you can access. What broader issues do you think, Secretary, might the formal investigation deal with that the preliminary investigation did not?

Ms Campbell : I'm very interested in the work health and safety matters. Clearly, we have motorcades frequently. We need to ensure that there are lessons learnt and that this is not repeated in any of our posts throughout the world. So I think it's important that we understand what happened and put in place mechanisms to seek that this not happen again. We clearly know that car accidents do happen, but, if there were factors that would mitigate it in the future, I'd like to ensure that they are put in place right throughout DFAT posts.

Senator AYRES: So there is nothing about the Daily Telegraph article that concerned you?

Ms Campbell : I don't want to speculate about what's in the media. I'd prefer to wait until I receive the report, which has the facts.

Senator AYRES: Will the investigation deal with those issues that I went through before? What were the circumstances of the driver's rostering?

Ms C ampbell : Yes.

Senator AYRES: What had the work program of the high commissioner been that day and the day before?

Ms Campbell : Yes.

Senator AYRES: Mr Brandis has been the high commissioner for four years. That's a year longer than usual, isn't it? He was extended for 12 months; is that right?

Ms Campbell : There are some head-of-mission posts that are four years. If I recall, there are a couple, like Dublin and the consul-general in New York. I think there are a range of them.

Senator AYRES: So, was it a three-year appointment that's been extended for a year, or—

Senator Payne: No, I think it was a four-year appointment in the beginning.

Senator AYRES: It was a four-year appointment. Is it likely that Mr Brandis will be extended?

Senator Payne: No. Mr Brandis will conclude his term at the expected time.

Senator AYRES: Has any consideration been given to his replacement?

Senator Payne: That's a matter for government.

Senator AYRES: There has of course been some speculation about another political appointment to this position. Can you confirm that Mr Hunt is a candidate?

Senator Payne: No, I can't confirm anything of the sort.

Senator AYRES: Or Mr McCormack?

Senator Payne: I can't confirm anything of the sort. It's a matter for government, and it would be considered in the normal course.

Senator AYRES: Since 2013, on my count, 17 former Liberal-Nationals politicians—I think only one National; I might be wrong—have been appointed to diplomatic posts. Is my count correct, Secretary?

Ms Campbell : I don't think I'm counting them along that line, but I can take on notice when non-career diplomats have been appointed to posts overseas.

CHAIR: Like Mr Gray.

Ms Campbell : Including Mr Gray.

Senator AYRES: Is there any prospect of a career diplomat being appointed as high commissioner?

Senator Payne: It's a matter for government. I'm not going to speculate.

Senator AYRES: But the track record would indicate—people join the dots and assume—that another political appointment is going to be made.

Senator Payne: There are a number of posts where governments of both persuasions have made key political appointments. I've worked constructively with many of them over the years, including particularly Mr Beazley, in Washington, for example. That has been historically the case.

Senator AYRES: Well, exactly: it's a quality-and-quantity argument, isn't it?

Senator Payne: That may be your argument, Senator. I'm not sure what point you're making.

CHAIR: Are you saying Mr Beazley's got quantity?

Senator AYRES: Well, I think he's universally regarded—not just across the parliament but more broadly—as an excellent appointment and has been supported by governments of both persuasions—

CHAIR: We're bipartisan on this side.

Senator AYRES: and it's been regarded as a very good appointment. My concern is with the volume of political appointments that have been issued by this government. Has a woman ever held the position of high commissioner to the United Kingdom?

Senator Payne: I don't believe a woman has been appointed to that role historically, no.

Senator AYRES: So, over the course of the last century we've managed to pull off the appointment of two blokes called Alexander Downer but not one woman?

Senator Payne: I don't have the full list of appointments to the role of high commissioner to the United Kingdom. But you're correct in saying that a woman has not been appointed to that role by any government, either yours or mine.

Senator AYR ES: I want to ask some questions about passports and the Passport Office.

Senator Payne: While the officers are coming to the table, I might fill this valuable gap by reminding myself that we do have 44 per cent of head-of-mission and head-of-post appointments currently held by women, and exceptional women, across the board.

CHAIR: Is that the highest level?

Senator Payne: No, it's not the highest, but it is nevertheless a significant increase. When we were elected in 2013 I think it was 27 per cent, or thereabouts—or 22 percent—and now it's 44 per cent.

Senator AYRES: I understand that there's been significant demand in terms of applications for passports. What's the current wait time for a new or renewed Australian passport? Hello, Mr Maclachlan and Ms Brill.

Ms Brill : The average wait time at the moment for a passport is 16 days.

Senator AYRES: Is it the same for a renewal as for a new passport?

Ms Brill : That's correct. Obviously renewals can often be processed faster, simply because they are a renewal and we often have all the details necessary.

Senator AYRES: And what's the wait time for priority processing?

Ms Brill : It is two days.

Senator AYRES: And what is the fee?

Ms Brill : The fee is $225.

Senator AYRES: Since the international borders opened up on 1 November, what's happened to the average delivery time?

Ms Brill : Obviously we had an expected surge with the reopening of the border in November, and we were advising Australians in advance to allow a minimum of six weeks for processing.

Senator AYRES: Yes, that's what your website says, I think.

Ms Brill : That's correct. We did move from a normal 10-day processing time to 16 days.

Ms Campbell : We warned people so they could make their plans for their travel, but Ms Brill and her team have worked really hard to try and get that six weeks down to something much, much lower.

Senator AYRES: Regarding the average time, a 60 per cent difference in the average time is not inconsiderable, but I assume what that means is, as you approach longer applications, the difference has been quite substantial?

Ms Brill : Correct. Sixteen days is an average. We do find that where the 16 days blows out is actually related to the customer providing all the necessary information. Unfortunately, some of the applications that take longer than 16 days relate to us having to get all the necessary documentation from the customer.

Ms Campbell : So the clock doesn't start when we've got a complete application; it's when we receive the application, and often we've got to chase details.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me how many applications take longer than six weeks?

Ms Brill : I don't have that information with me, but I can certainly look to see if I can provide it. Unfortunately our systems are quite complex, but I will absolutely do my best to be able to provide it to you.

Senator AYRES: There would be some sort of reporting, presumably, at intervals that tells you how many passport applications fall outside the six weeks?

Ms Campbell : I don't think we have invested in the management information around this sort of stuff in the past, because we had such a good record there for a while. One of the things I worry about is whether or not we capture when it's because we're waiting for customer information—and if we ask the customer for information, how long it takes them to get back to us on it. I don't think that our systems capture that yet. We can do the best we can. I would like the clock to stop when we're asking a customer for more information, but our systems don't allow that at this time.

Ms Brill : I should add that not only do we have our priority processing for a fee for two days, but we obviously also process all compassionate and compelling applications immediately, and that's a seven-day service. So, for anyone who has an urgent need to travel because of a death or illness or an urgent, unexpected business requirement, we're able to process that immediately to ensure that Australians can meet their travel plans.

Senator AYRES: I'm told that the Passport Office phone line has been impossible for people to get through to over the course of the last two months. Do you have a record of when it's stopped being available or how many times it's not been available to people making inquiries about their applications?

Ms Brill : I don't have a record of when it's not been available. We do use congested messaging when we're particularly busy. You are right—

Senator AYRES: When you say 'congested messaging', what does that mean?

Ms Brill : Rather than have the customer wait on the line and use up their valuable time, we let the customer know that we are experiencing a very busy period—often at lunchtime or at end of day, particularly on a Monday and a Friday—and we advise the customer to try again at a later time.

Senator AYRES: You tell them to call back.

Ms Brill : That's right. We also have a client mailbox that we provide for questions, and that customer-facing mailbox responds within 48 hours. So if customers are not able to get through on the phone, we also have the mailbox, and they will receive a reply within a 48-hour period.

Senator AYRES: So you can't tell me how often the phone contact line was too congested for people to be able to get through?

Ms Brill : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me how many staff work the Passport Office?

Ms Brill : We have had quite a variable staffing level over the last two years. For the last two years, while the international border has been closed, we've actively redeployed our staff to assist in other urgent areas of service delivery, and this of course includes departments such as Services Australia. From October, we brought back all those staff and engaged a further 130 staff ready for the expected surge that we would have over the November-December period. That takes our staffing level to about 600.

Senator A YRES: Circa 470, with some redeployed over the course of the pandemic, then back to 470 in October—

Ms Brill : No, Senator.

Senator AYRES: and then an additional 130 engaged?

Ms Brill : Sorry, perhaps I didn't explain myself. We had over 250 staff redeployed. We obviously brought them back, and then we added an extra 130 to bring us to 600 at the moment. We are currently recruiting again in anticipation of a further spike as part of the European summer. That will continue over the next year or 18 months.

Senator AYRES: Are they all permanent staff, or do you engage people through labour hire companies?

Ms Brill : We have a mix of permanent and contractor staff to give us the flexibility to surge the business as necessary.

Senator AYRES: What proportion of the 600 are permanent staff or staff engaged directly by the department, and what proportion are employees of labour hire companies?

Ms Brill : We have a large proportion as permanents. I can give you the exact breakdown on notice. We obviously have quite a skilled workforce, so a larger proportion is permanent compared to our contractors, which are essentially for our surge. I can take it on notice, but it is about a 70-30 split. That will change, obviously, as we continue to staff up. At the same time, we are currently running a permanent recruitment process.

Senator AYRES: Putting aside my concerns about the very high level of labour hire and casual insecure work across the Commonwealth, there are significant security issues attached to dealing with passport applications properly. How many labour hire companies are engaging their staff?

Ms Brill : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator AY RES: More than a dozen?

Ms Brill : I don't think it's more than a dozen, but I will take it on notice.

Senator AYRES: Well, maybe not for today, but that does seem to me to present some difficulties, getting assurance in this kind of work.

Ms Brill : We are a national network and an international network, but we obviously work with companies that are specific to the state we are recruiting in. They have the best knowledge of the labour market, so we work with a variety of contractors in order to be able to ensure that we have got enough staff working right across our state offices.

Senator AYRES: What kind of security requirements are there for permanent staff who work in the Passport Office? Criminal background checks?

Ms Campbell : There is the criminal background check and then—are they protected?

Ms Brill : That's right—

Senator AYRES: I missed that second bit.

Ms Brill : We have a criminal background check. It's a variation of levels depending on the work our staff do.

Senator AYRES: Depending on where they sit in the organisation.

Ms Brill : Some of our staff are involved in processing the photograph. Other staff are involved in our very complex case management around particular passport issuance, and they would have an NV2 clearance.

Senator AYRES: So the same requirement for labour hire staff?

Ms Brill : Absolutely. Our labour hire staff generally do the administrative type roles. They are not involved in the full processing or the issuance of a passport from end to end, in terms of approving that—

Senator AYRES: When was the Passport Office advised the border would be reopening on 1 November?

Ms Brill : We were working very closely, as part of the whole-of-government exercise, on the reopening of the border.

Senator AYRES: When was the Passport Office aware that the border was programmed to open on 1 November?

Ms Campbell : I would have to check the actual date for when the government took the decision, but the Passport Office had been included in all the work up to it. It didn't come as a surprise at all to us because we had been working with our colleagues on that.

Senator AYRES: So no surprise because there was workforce planning engaged in prior to the—

Ms Brill : Absolutely. We were already recruiting and training staff in anticipation of the surge.

Senator AYRES: With the 130 additional staff: is that because you got approval to increase the full-time-equivalent-staff footprint at the Passport Office, or are they all labour hire staff?

Ms Campbell : We had some headroom in our ASL cap, so that allowed us to do some issues there.

Senator AYRES: Perhaps on notice: what was the headroom—

Ms Campbell : We can take that on notice.

Senator AYRES: and what is the proportion of the 130 new employees who are full time? You said you are advertising for more staff. How many more?

Ms Brill : We will continue to staff up in various areas. At the moment we plan to engage a further 100 staff over the next two months, and then we will reassess our forecast inner modelling based on the current trend. We work very closely with the travel sector and with our counterparts globally on understanding likely trends in terms of people wanting to travel. We are aware of our unmet demand and how many passports we are expecting to have renewed over the next 12 to 18 months, and we will be working to meet that demand.

Senator AYRES: You are going to get to 700 before there is an assessment done of what the future workforce demand is, and you will be able to tell me, of the 600, how many are permanent and how many are labour hire staff?

Ms Brill : Correct.

Senator AYRES: Thank you.

Senator KENEALLY: I have some questions about the Pacific labour mobility schemes. My initial questions may involve the department's protocol branch and legal division. Are those officials present?

Ms Campbell : They are, but we might bring to the table the head of the Office of the Pacific and Ms Heinecke to see whether we can answer some of those questions. Protocol and Legal will be coming down from upstairs, so, should they be needed, they can jump in.

Senator KENEALLY: As you are no doubt aware from reports in the media and from the department's participation in the Senate Select Committee on Job Security's inquiry, in July 2021, I understand, the Australian Border Force issued a warrant as part of an investigation into individuals who were under sponsored visas and who were allegedly being encouraged to leave their employment and commence employment in other areas. I understand that the High Commissioner to Vanuatu was named in the second condition of the warrant and that this warrant was executed through a raid of the Queensland property of Geoffrey and Jane Smith. Have I got anything wrong there that I need to correct?

Ms Heinecke : That's correct as far as we understand, from advice from Home Affairs and the ABF.

Senator KENEALLY: I also understand, through evidence provided to the select committee on 3 February, that the department of foreign affairs was not consulted prior to the warrant being issued or prior to the raid being carried out on the Smiths' property; is that correct?

Ms Heinecke : That is correct.

Senator KENEALLY: I also understand, from evidence provided to the select committee on 3 February, that the department's legal team provided legal advice to the Australian Border Force as to the application of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in Australia's Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act 1967, and that that advice was provided on 10 December 2021; is that correct?

Mr McCarthy : Yes, that is correct. The request came in on 9 December, and advice was provided on the 10th.

Senator KENEALLY: Just so we're clear: the warrant that named the High Commissioner to Vanuatu was issued in July 2021, and the Australian Border Force sought legal advice from the department on the application of the Vienna convention and our Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act on 9 December?

Mr McCarthy : The dates you've stated are correct. I just need to double-check my notes to check whether the request to us came from Home Affairs or from Border Force.

Senator KENEALLY: That's fine, thank you. The dates were the main thing I was seeking to confirm.

Mr McCarthy : The dates are correct.

Senator KENEALLY: I note that section 7 of that act states:

… the provisions of Articles 1, 22 to 24 (inclusive) and 27 to 40 (inclusive) of the Convention have the force of law in Australia and in every external Territory.

Then it goes on, per articles 29 and 30 of the Vienna convention, which have the force of law in Australia, to say 'the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable' as well as his papers, correspondence and property; is that correct?

Mr McCarthy : That is correct.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you please explain why it took nearly six months? Did you inquire to Home Affairs or Border Force why it took six months to seek advice on the application of our domestic and international obligations in the context of a high commissioner being named in an ABF warrant?

Mr McCarthy : That's a question you'd need to direct to Home Affairs.

Senator KENEALLY: With respect, I'm asking you. When you got that request, did you go back and say, 'But you issued this warrant back in July'? Did you perhaps suggest to them they should have sought advice before they issued the warrant?

Mr McCarthy : We may unfortunately play musical chairs here. The first time this information came into the department was to the protocol branch. I think the chief of protocol is behind me; I might ask him to step in for one second.

Mr McConville : I can add one further item of information. On 2 September, after we had been advised by the high commissioner of the fact that he had been named in the warrant, or that at least his communications had been implicated in the warrant, I spoke with the acting assistant commissioner of the Australian Border Force and underlined our concerns at the time that we had not been consulted.

Senator KENEALLY : So how should it work? If law enforcement—or, in this case, Border Force, an agency that can issue a warrant—seek to investigate a foreign head of mission, how should that process work?

Mr McConville : The process had, in this case, been less than satisfactory; that was the message we delivered to the ABF at the time. Since then we have, along with the chief legal officer and myself, written to the commissioner of the ABF—I think that was on 11 February—to further underscore the process we would require. It is a process that we have well and truly entrenched in place with the Australian Federal Police. The moment there is an individual who has accredited status, the ABF or the AFP should contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—if it's out of hours, we have a permanent duty officer in the protocol branch—and then we can be advised of that. Then, in consultation with our legal colleagues, we would talk through—whether with the ABF or the AFP—the implications of any future course of action.

Senator KENEALLY: If I understand you correctly, there's an arrangement in place with the AFP and there really hadn't been one with the ABF? Or did the ABF just make a mistake?

Mr McConville : That's true, the difference being that AFP engagement with the diplomatic corps and the consular corps is much more common. It is in fact unusual for ABF to conduct investigations or to have issues of concern involving accredited diplomats or consular officials. Nevertheless, it's something that they should have been aware of. We've worked with them since on a notification form, which I understand ABF is now finalising. It provides instructions and guidance to those out in the field about the process that should be followed. Obviously, in this case we're talking about a situation that unfolded in regional Queensland, so the awareness of the officers in question may not have been as acute as if it were an AFP officer dealing with an issue in Canberra.

Senator KENEALLY: I'm pretty sure the law applies consistently, though—in Canberra or in regional Queensland. And I don't mean to suggest that you're suggesting it doesn't!

Mr McConville : That's right, but this is more about the process; we're not talking about the legal assessments of whether the ABF conduct was within the scope of a legal framework. It's the process that we registered concern with on both occasions.

Senator KENEALLY: I won't ask you to comment, but my observation is that an agency that has warrant-issuing powers should have a process in place to understand the legal obligations upon them. I'm pleased to hear that's happening after your representation to the ABF. You said the department became aware of it on 2 September?

Mr McConville : It was shortly before then. I spoke to the ABF acting assistant commissioner on 2 September.

Senator KENEALLY: Right. And how did you become aware of it? Was it because the high commissioner contacted you?

Mr McConville : Yes. I've had regular exchanges with the high commissioner on this issue, as I've had with our Pacific colleagues and our legal division.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, when did you become aware of the warrant and its inclusion of the High Commissioner of Vanuatu?

Senator Payne: I would have to take the actual date on notice, but I can say that the secretary hosted an event recently at which the High Commissioner of Vanuatu was in attendance, with both Minister Seselja and me also attending. Obviously, we engaged with him there. But as to when I became aware of it, I'll have to check.

Senator KENEALLY: Was that via a briefing from the department or when it came through the media?

Senator Payne: I'll check, Senator.

Senator KENEALLY: Did the department prepare a brief for the minister?

Senator Payne: I think, by recollection, I was advised by my staff, which would have been advised to my office from the department. But let me check so that the answer is complete; I'll come back to you.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. Let's go to the legal advice then that was provided by the department to the ABF. Did it provide an assessment that the ABF's listing of the Vanuatu high commissioner in the warrant was compliant with the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act 1967?

Mr McCarthy : No. Firstly, I would characterise the advice as being, if you like, preliminary legal views. It was not definitive.

Senator KENEALLY: It was not definitive?

Mr McCarthy : It did not provide a definitive view; that's not uncommon with legal advice. It would say that there's a range of ways of looking at the issue and, in this case, it recommended that if a definitive view were required that the AGS be engaged.

Senator KENEALLY: So is a definitive view required? Has the AGS been engaged?

Mr McCarthy : That would be a question for Home Affairs.

Senator KENEALLY: So, essentially, Home Affairs, having received preliminary legal views from Foreign Affairs, would, for a definitive view, then need to go to the Government Solicitor?

Mr McCarthy : In this instance that would be correct. Our advice was that these are some preliminary considerations as you look at this issue and that, if you want a definitive answer—well, really, a definitive answer can only be provided by a court of law—if you want a more considered view then you should engage the AGS and put the question to them.

Senator KENEALLY: Let me ask this, then. Article 30 of the Vienna convention clearly states that diplomatic correspondence in this circumstance enjoys inviolability. That sounds pretty definitive. It doesn't sound like there is a lot of wiggle room there. How should we interpret that?

Mr McCarthy : There are two points. You'd be well aware of the longstanding convention that we don't disclose the content of the legal advice in these proceedings. We can provide an assessment of the character of that advice, which I've done, but I can't disclose the specific content of that advice. I would say that I think the section that you're referring to refers to the archives of a diplomatic mission, which is different from the correspondence. That's about as far as I can go.

Senator KENEALLY: What we have here, based on the ABF's evidence to the select committee on 3 February, is that, essentially, there has been a considerable amount of communication between Mr Smith and the high commissioner of Vanuatu. Even if we were to set aside the questions about the high commissioner's archives or documents, it would seem that his correspondence has not been treated inviolably and that there was, in fact, communication with the high commissioner, as Mr Smith says, on his phone. What's the department's understanding of whether, in the course of the ABF's raid of Mr Smith's property, any communications between Mr Smith and the high commissioner were seized?

Mr McCarthy : I'm very happy to outline the general legal principles that apply, but, once we get into the subject matter of their application to the facts in a particular instance, that becomes legal advice. So I'm trying to be as helpful as I can without crossing that line.

Mr McConville : I could add that, during the discussion that I had with the ABF acting assistant commissioner, we did receive an undertaking that they would not be using any exchanges with the high commissioner in legal proceedings unless they consulted further with us. That has not occurred, so our understanding is that that information has not been the subject of any legal outcomes from the—

Senator KENEALLY: Your understanding is that they've ruled out using in legal proceedings any material that would reflect the high commissioner's communications. The ABF and home affairs department were careful to say on 3 February that they did not 'examine' any official material relating to the high commissioner. Is that your understanding? Have they advised you of that?

Mr McConville : That's right. That's consistent with the undertaking they gave me that they would consult with us further if they were so minded to use that information or further interrogate that information.

Senator KENEALLY: Is it your understanding that it's possible that material relating to the high commissioner, such as text messages, could have been seized, but not examined, and will not be relied upon in legal proceedings?

Mr McConville : We are not aware of whether anything was seized or not. It was certainly within the terms of the warrant, which has publicly been disclosed.

Senator KENEALLY: You would have seen, from the evidence provided to the select committee, that Commissioner Outram at the ABF was not initially advised that the high commissioner was named in the warrant. Those are ABF processes; I accept that, and I accept that you have already taken it upon yourselves to advise the ABF, and to seek to instil better processes there so that they understand their obligations. You say you contacted the ABF on 2 September?

Mr McConville : I spoke with the acting deputy commissioner at the time.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, but then they didn't seek legal advice until 9 December. What explains that lag?

Mr McCarthy : That's a question you'd have to put to them.

Senator KENEALLY: They only requested your legal advice after the warrant issue was raised in the Senate. It seems to me that if this warrant had not been raised in budget estimates last year, and in select committee hearings, it's quite likely that they might not have sought legal advice at all. Did you at any time suggest that they should seek legal advice?

Mr McCarthy : As I said, the first that we as a department were aware of this issue was well after the issue and execution of the search warrant. The first time the legal division was asked for a view was on 9 December. Just to go back to my previous evidence, I confirm that the request came from the Department of Home Affairs on 9 December. I know I confirmed the dates, but I said I wasn't sure if it was Home Affairs. It was Home Affairs.

Senator RICE: Minister, did the Australian Government encourage Woodside to cease operations in Myanmar?

Senator Payne: The Australian government would not take a position on a commercial decision by Woodside; that would be my first response. If officials wish to add anything further, I would ask them to do so.

Senator RICE: So that's a no, you didn't engage with them?

Senator Payne: I speak to senior officers of Australian businesses all the time, including Woodside. But—

Senator RICE: Did you encourage them to divest?

Senator Payne: No. The Australian government does not encourage businesses, one way or the other, in relation to their commercial decisions.

Senator RICE: Media reports indicate that the junta has started cancelling visas of high-profile opponents. Is it still your position that we should try for ASEAN diplomacy rather than joining other countries in imposing targeted sanctions?

Senator Payne: Australia has been very clear that our sanctions position in relation to Myanmar remains under review, and I reiterate that today. These are options that remain available to the Australian government. But in my discussions with counterparts, including with Quad foreign ministers on Friday and Saturday last week, and in the Quad foreign ministers' statement, the focus of effort from ASEAN is essential in this region. We have strongly supported the engagement of ASEAN; the achievement of the five-point consensus was an extremely significant step.

I do acknowledge that the lack of progress made by the regime in relation to that is a matter of concern, and it is a matter that I have raised repeatedly with counterparts both with the previous leadership of ASEAN, as I said earlier in our conversation, under Brunei, and now with the leadership under Cambodia. This is an issue which we have raised consistently both in the region and more broadly, including a discussion with our colleagues in AUKMIN.

Senator RICE: But we still haven't got to the stage of imposing sanctions, despite the US and UK increasing their sanctions on the first anniversary of the coup. Secretary of State Blinken said that there was a robust discussion about Myanmar sanctions at the time of your Quad meeting. Did Secretary Blinken ask you to join the US in imposing sanctions?

Senator Payne: Let me repeat myself: I am most unlikely to engage, in a public forum, in canvassing the conversations that I had with Quad foreign ministers within that meeting. There was indeed a discussion, as I said—and I'm just trying to find the statement—

Senator RICE: What's it going to take, Minister, for us to decide to impose sanctions? It's currently under review and our major partners are increasing their sanctions, yet we are unwilling to do so. What's it going to take?

Senator Payne: Again I reiterate that, in this region, it is my strong view that ASEAN leadership is essential in addressing the issues in Myanmar—essential.

Senator RICE: Is it going to be leading to—

Senator Payne: I don't need to say anything, Senator, because you won't even let me finish my sentence.

Senator RICE: I heard what you had to say, Minister, but we've had a year of the coup. We have had thousands of people dying and hundreds of thousands of people impacted, yet we are not joining our major partners in imposing sanctions.

Senator Payne: We join our major partners—in fact, we lead with our partners—in calling for an arms embargo. We have an existing arms embargo and we have been very strong in reiterating the importance of that embargo. As you know, we have supported calls for a global arms embargo. We have, for Myanmar nationals who are in Australia, extended their visas. We have suspended our limited bilateral defence cooperation. We have worked extensively to endeavour to provide humanitarian and development support in a very difficult environment.

Senator RICE: When the Future Fund divested from the Chinese weapons company, they said that it was in response to US sanctions. Doesn't that actually show that sanctions work?

Senator Payne: Sorry, Senator, can you repeat that?

Senator RICE: Recently, the Future Fund divested from a Chinese weapons company that was providing weapons to the junta, and they said that they did that in response to US sanctions. Doesn't that show that sanctions actually work?

Senator Payne: I have also engaged on the matter of the Future Fund with both of our shareholder ministers, Minister Birmingham and Minister Frydenberg, including raising the issues raised in reports that were publicised in December. DFAT is going to engage with the Future Fund and increase its engagement with the Future Fund in response to that as well.

I have consistently said—and you asked me about commercial interests before—that Australian companies and investors with interests in Myanmar should absolutely undertake heightened due diligence. They should be seeking independent advice regarding, as you say, relevant sanctions and human rights obligations to ensure that they're complying, and that includes the Future Fund.

Senator RICE: Which to me sounds as if sanctions are working. In November, Minister Dutton attended the informal virtual meeting of ASEAN Australian defence ministers with the Myanmar junta regime. We're not imposing sanctions, but we're taking meetings with them. Aren't we, in effect, legitimising the junta?

Senator Payne: No, we are not. We do recognise, for a range of regions, including Australia's regional interests, that we have to have some capacity to engage. We have to have some capacity to engage. I don't know if you're suggesting, Senator, and that I should abandon Australia's consular obligations, for example, to have some capacity to engage, and we continue—

Senator RICE: I'm suggesting the defence minister shouldn't be attending meetings with the junta. It looks like we're legitimising the regime when our defence minister attends meetings with the junta. I can see we're not going to get any further there. I'd like to now move on to Syria. What charges have been laid against the Australian women and children detained in the Syrian camps?

Senator Payne: I am sorry, Senator, I think you have just made an assertion which is not correct. Can you repeat what you said about the defence minister?

Senator RICE: That he attended an informal, virtual meeting of ASEAN Australian defence ministers with the Myanmar junta regime.

Senator Payne: I will come back to you on that, Senator.

Senator RICE: Thank you. Moving on to Syria, what charges have been laid against the Australian women and children detained in the Syrian camps?

Mr Noble : I am not tracking any charges against women and children currently detained in Syrian camps. I would check with Home Affairs to 100 per cent verify that in the case of Australia.

Senator RICE: Sorry, you don't know whether any charges have been laid?

Mr Noble : I am not aware of any charges laid against them.

Senator RICE: So you don't know under what Syrian or Kurdish law, in fact, that they are being detained?

Mr Noble : The people who are detained in the Syrian camp as a result of armed conflict—you're aware of the campaign against ISIS, the 84 nation global coalition. The view is that the status of each individual would have to be assessed to determine the basis of their detention.

Senator RICE: Do you know whether the Kurdish authorities plan to take the Australian women and children to court for any alleged crimes? Have you asked the Kurdish authorities about this?

Mr Noble : Our interactions with them are indirect, or through our posts periodically. I don't believe we have asked them that specific question.

Senator RICE: Why not, given they have been detained now for a period of some years?

Mr Noble : I would have to take it on notice.

Senator RICE: We have got Australian women and children who have been in detention for over two years—no charges laid, no court dates, no due process provided and no legal basis to justify their deprivation of liberty. Isn't that arbitrary detention? Isn't that what this government says it's so firmly against?

Mr Noble : As I said, the camps are there and the detention is there as a result of the armed conflict. Each individual would have to be assessed on his or her own basis. The government stands against arbitrary detention and supports the Copenhagen procedures and guidelines.

Senator RICE: But we haven't asked the Kurdish authorities specifically whether they are actually going to be charged and under what laws? They have been there for two years and we have got no further clarity about that?

Mr Noble : It would have to be person by person. We do not have consular presence in Syria.

Senator RICE: We're not doing it person by person either then?

Mr Noble : Not presently.

Senator RICE: Since September 2021 when has the Australian government actually engaged with the Syrian Kurdish authorities?

Mr Noble : Regularly, but often not in Syria—principally through our post contacts—

Senator RICE: When you say regularly—weekly, fortnightly, monthly?

Mr Noble : The most recent was February. It is not periodic. It's regular. So probably monthly. February this month was the—

Senator RICE: If you could take notice the details.

Mr Noble : Sure. I can give you a list, yes.

Senator RICE: During those engagements have we raised the question of the detention status of Australians?

Mr Noble : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator RICE: Have we used those conversations to verify information regarding the ages, conditions and other factors regarding the wellbeing of Australians?

Mr Noble : We do.

Senator RICE: Minister Payne, I would like to go to how information from different agencies feeds into your work with the department. In general terms, I just want to confirm that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service is accountable to you, as Australia's foreign minister?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator RICE: And that work includes working with the intelligence or security services of other countries?

Senator Payne: Broadly speaking, yes.

Senator RICE: Again, without going to the specifics, there has been public reporting on Australian intelligence officials in Syria. Presumably, again, in general terms, not commenting on Syria specifically, if ASIS becomes aware of a risk to an Australian citizen they would report that to you?

Senator Payne: I don't think it's in the interests of this discussion to comment on hypothetical issues in the intelligence space, so I'll ask you to place your questions on the record and I will respond to them on notice.

Senator RICE: But it is not hypothetical. In fact, I don't want to go to the specifics of Syria, it's just the general terms—

Senator Payne: I'm going to ask you to place your questions on the record and I will respond on notice.

Senator RICE: I just want to know in general terms whether ASIS would tell you about a risk to an Australian citizen, a threat to the life of an Australian citizen?

Senator Payne: Senator, as you know, we don't make public comment on intelligence matters. If you wish to place your questions on the record, and I am very happy for you to do that, I will respond on notice.

Senator RICE: It is in general terms. If ASIS were aware of a threat to the life of an Australian citizen would they report that to you?

Senator Payne: I am not going to comment on intelligence matters on this record.

Senator RICE: On 28 October, at last Senate estimates, following a question about Julian Assange, you said: 'I would say in relation to the question you've just asked about the media story that I found out in the media.' Is that still your position?

Senator Payne: I'm sorry?

Senator RICE: With regard to Julian Assange.

Senator Payne: I'm sorry, Senator, I don't know what you're referring to.

Senator RICE: In terms of the threats to the life of Julian Assange and the—

Senator Payne: I don't recall the specific discussion. I'm happy to refresh my memory. I will look at my consular brief to see if that assists me, but I don't recall this particular discussion.

Senator RICE: It was with regard to the reporting of threats to the life of Julian Assange that you said that you found out about it in the media. If you could check your records. After making that statement to our estimates committee did you check for any other notifications to confirm the veracity of that?

The department of foreign affairs has on file that there's a report by independent UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Nils Melzer, confirming that Mr Assange has all the symptoms typical for prolonged exposure to psychological torture. Minister, have you read that report in its entirety?

Senator Payne: The Melzer report I have read in part. I'm not sure that I've read it in its entirety. I recall at the time that I was advised that the report was produced with, and I stand to be corrected by officials, no contact with the Australian government. We were not given an opportunity to engage with the special rapporteur. That is my recollection. If I need to correct the record I will.

Senator RICE: Have you or the department raised any factual inaccuracies about that report with Mr Melzer?

Senator Payne: I will take that on notice.

CHAIR: The committee is suspended.

Proceedings suspended from 15:47 to 16:03

CHAIR: The committee is resumed.

Ms Campbell : [inaudible] policies, which I said I'd take on notice. I thought it was really important that we get back on that.

CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Senator AYRES: While we're on [inaudible] details of the Ashurst contract have now been made available—and I was looking for my glasses, and the chair has got them! That's terrific.

Senator Payne: It's always quite hard to find your glasses when you're not wearing them, I find, Senator Ayres.

Ms Campbell : Senator, I think we're still looking for that detail, but we've still got a bit more time.

Senator AYRES: Of course, thank you.

Ms Campbell : On the department: we talked about the department's mechanisms to provide professional support to employees when reporting sexual harassment or assault. We have a network of 200 trained diversity and anti-harassment officers—I think they're called IDAHOs—across the network, including overseas. They receive training in preventing sexual exploitation and harassment. We also have a dedicated staff and family support office staffed with highly qualified and experienced psychologists, and, as well, external counselling support through the Employee Assistance Program, EAP. In addition, the department has recently released our preventing sexual exploitation and harassment e-learning course. And that can also be conducted face-to-face—practitioner training—for that module. In addition, when our heads of mission or heads of post or any SES officer are receiving their training before they go overseas, this includes handling sexual harassment and assault matters, and that's part of their 'managing overseas operations' course. And each time they go overseas they have a one-on-one, pre-post meeting with the Chief People Officer and the Director of Ethics, Integrity and Professional Standards, to ensure that they're aware of the way to report these matters, and to support people who are reporting.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you very much, Ms Campbell, I appreciate the efforts the department went to to find that information.

CHAIR: Now to Iran. Who can tell us about the nuclear issues—the JCPOA, is it? If that's the right acronym. Not all at once!

Ms Campbell : We'll just see whether our ambassador for non-proliferation can come to the table.

CH AIR: Do we have an African specialist at the table?

Ms Campbell : We have an African specialist.

CHAIR: Let's briefly, then, deal with an issue, and that is the Congo. I was given an update to question 27, supplementary estimates, topic: Congo. I'm just wondering whether you are able to provide any update to that answer as to how things are going in the Republic of the Congo, as opposed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr Innes-Brown : The Republic of the Congo held presidential elections—

CHAIR: Just quickly, if I may, I was told that, I think, in the answer that was provided. Is there any new information that you would want to supply to us, in addition to the written answer provided?

Mr Innes-Brown : Sure. We remain concerned about the human rights situation. Repression of political parties and candidates is commonplace, unfortunately. Public gatherings are closely monitored and tightly controlled, as are the activities of civil society organisations, particularly when they're connected to opposition groups.

CHAIR: That's especially for the Bakongo from the south?

Mr Innes-Brown : There are tensions between the president and his followers who primarily come from the north and the Bakongo from the south. Bakongo make up the majority of the civil servants and technocratic positions in the country but, unfortunately, very few hold leadership positions. We've received reports that neighbourhoods with large Bakongo populations are often subject to heavier police and military focus, particularly around election time.

CHAIR: Which is what you provided me in your written answer. So that's still very much up to date?

Mr Innes-Brown : I can't report to you, Senator, unfortunately, that there's been a remarkable improvement in the situation in the Republic of the Congo.

CHAIR: Thank you. That was my only question about matters African. Mr Biggs, what can you tell us about the JCPOA and developments with Iran?

Mr Biggs : JCPOA is important to Australia. We are strongly committed to the nonproliferation ambition of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and we continue to urge Iran to engage in good faith and to hope for a return to the JCPOA. We are not obviously party to that particular agreement, but the whole of the global community supports the inspection and verification work of the International Atomic Energy Agency that should make the JCPOA work and to provide the assurance that we're all looking for.

CHAIR: Are we convinced that that is happening, or are they now developing nuclear material beyond that which they would be entitled to under the agreement and greater quantities of it?

Mr Biggs : We don't have the assurance that this is going to work. I know only that the quite positive signals in the last few days out of the negotiations in Vienna may mean an agreement may be imminent, but I can't confirm that. What I can say is that we are very concerned—everyone is very concerned—about the amount of material that's being produced as a result of Iran's suspension of its obligations under the JCPOA for the last three years. A great deal of production has happened, and we're concerned about that. We're very concerned about the inability over the last period of the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify the compliance with its obligations.

CHAIR: So, if this agency is unable to verify, who is verifying anything?

Mr Biggs : It has been able to conduct some limited verification during the whole of the period that the JCPOA has been in suspension or not working as it's meant to. They were excluded at one point and then negotiated an agreement to come back in. Some of their activities are subject to a resumption when the JCPOA is fully restored. I could perhaps refer you to my colleague, the Director-General of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, who's here and can give you chapter and verse on—

CHAIR: I don't want to take up too much time but it's very concerning that the monitoring of what has been in suspension and not verifiable, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. However, we've got our fingers crossed that that which is occurring currently might develop.

Mr Biggs : The characterisation would be that Australia is deeply concerned.

CHAIR: And how do we then send that message to Iran or indeed around the world?

Mr Biggs : Australia has a very active embassy in Tehran, which is in frequent contact with Iranian officials and passes on that message. There's no secret about the concern that's shared.

CHAIR: Do we also pass on, through our embassy in Iran, our concerns about their lack of human rights in the country, the persecution of Christians and the oppression of women?

Mr Innes-Brown : We certainly do. We regularly take up those issues of concern with the Iranian government, both in bilateral settings and multilateral settings. That is a major focus of our interaction with the Iranian government.

CHAIR: Are you aware of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which was based in the United States?

Mr Innes-Brown : I've heard of it. I don't know who they are.

CHAIR: They've produced a document 'Iran exposing the latest terror risk game plan of the IRGC' and I'm not sure how to pronounce this, but it has a capital Q—

Mr Innes-Brown : Quds Force.

CHAIR: Thank you. What can you tell us about that? That seems to be a creation of naval units consisting of proxy mercenary forces. Would that be a fair description?

Mr Innes-Brown : I haven't seen the specific report, but I can say that the IRGC Quds Force has been very active, over a number of decades, in developing forces in the region to conduct operations in support of Iran's objectives. That is—

CHAIR: And what are Iran's objectives? I know this is diplomatic talk, but is it for peace and stability in the region or is it to help terrorists undertake their activities or to help criminal activities?

Mr Innes-Brown : I wouldn't characterise Iran's activities since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 as promoting peace and tranquillity in the region.

CHAIR: Good.

Mr Innes-Bro wn : Quite the contrary. Iran, where it can, in particular countries where it is supporting opposition groups or wishes to promote a particular cause, does seek to promote instability and so forth. We've seen that in a number of places. For instance, in Iraq they're a very influential country there but, for historic reasons, including the 1980 to 1988 war with Iraq, they are interested in Iraq not falling apart but no longer being strong enough to threaten Iran. They want to have considerable influences over the levers of power in Iraq.

In Lebanon they're a strong supporter of Hezbollah, which is a very well-known fact, and in other places. They're a known provider of assistance to the Houthis in Yemen. Over time, that's been chronicled. Shipments have been intercepted and so forth.

CHAIR: Shipments of arms and weapons?

Mr Innes-Brown : Yes, that's right.

CHAIR: Are we aware of the teachers' strikes in Iran and have any representations been made about that to the Iranian authorities? My Labor colleagues would be delighted that I'm asking this question because, I understand, the Australian Education Union has also released a public statement on its website condemning the regime for its repressive measures against teachers.

Mr Innes-Brown : I am aware of the strikes. They come in a context of living conditions in Iran and the economic situation and it's—

CHAIR: It's not only teachers, is it?

Mr Innes-Brown : There are others. There are farmers in central Iran, including around Esfahan where there are longstanding water resource problems, supply issues and environmental problems. But, yes, there have been significant economic problems in Iran due to mismanagement, largely, and there is a very high rate of inflation. Conditions for workers have not been good for some time. The ability of workers or any other group to take up their claims as we would in Australia has been very circumscribed, and public protests have been met, often, with force and the detention of protesters. That's commonplace.

CHAIR: As the women found out as well with their very large demonstrations against the requirement to wear the hijab. Is that correct?

Mr Innes-Brown: Which period are we talking about? Are we talking about 1980, 1979 or recently?

CHAIR: No, the demonstrations have occurred in more recent times, and the women leaders of those protests have been arrested.

Mr Innes-Brown: As I said, unfortunately the situation is that public protests of any sort are usually met with force and the organisers are incarcerated.

CHAIR: Moving on to Israel and the United Nations—I always forget this: is it Agenda Item 7 or 17 on the Human Rights Council?

Mr Innes-Brown: It's Agenda Item 7.

CHAIR: I got a nod from the back, so thank you very much. Can we have an update as to whether there's any movement or likely movement to get rid of that very offensive agenda item against Israel? I note that there isn't one for North Korea or Cuba or the People's Republic of China—

Senato r KITCHING: Or Saudi Arabia.

CHAIR: or Saudi Arabia, which might give us an indication of what motivates such an agenda item.

Mr Innes-Brown: We continue to express our concern about Agenda Item 7, and we maintain our principled opposition to that, most recently at the 44th Human Rights Council Session. We continue to do so. In terms of if there's any progress on it, I don't think so, but we will continue to oppose it.

CHAIR: In recent times I've been delighted that the government has taken on the IHRA definition of antisemitism. How many other countries have now adopted that definition?

Mr Innes-Brown: I will have to take that on notice; I don't have that to my fingertips.

CHAIR: Yes, take that on notice. I think it's a slowly growing number. I'm delighted that Australia is now a part of it, having advocated for that at previous estimates.

We are part of a group of countries seeking the abolition of the death penalty. As is my wont at estimates, I will ask for an update. How many more countries have signed up, if any? Do we have any extra statistics one way or another on the use of the death penalty?

Ms Campbell : I'm looking for the relevant officer to come to the table.

CHAIR: If the relevant officer is not here, I've put it on the Hansard. Let's take that on notice.

Ms Campbell : We'll take it on notice because I'm not seeing any movement.

CHAIR: I'll put in a request as well from Christian Faith and Freedom, who pepper my email inbox—and I welcome them doing so—telling us unfortunately about persecutions occurring in Afghanistan, Kenya, Iran, Pakistan, China, India, Cuba, Myanmar, Burma et cetera. Do we have a coordinated approach, either by Australia or freedom-loving countries around the world, to seek to protect people of the Christian faith and, supplementary to that, people of any other faith, who are being persecuted around the world?

Senator Payne: Officials will come to the table. We have been participating in a broad alliance on freedom of religion or belief for a number of years now. And you're correct to say that there are ongoing incursions on freedom of religion or belief, or freedom not to have a belief, in many places around the world. That alliance met relatively recently, I think, in the United States. I think we attended with a representative from post in the US. That is something which we place a significant focus on as a human right and work with counterparts around the world on that.

CHAIR: Does that alliance have a name?

Senator Payne: Yes. It's called the—

Ms Smith : International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance.

Senator Payne: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. At least I now know what it's officially called.

Ms Klugman : Just to bring you up to date—and I know that you like to be brought up to date in these committee processes—the most recent session of the UN Third Committee, which is the committee that deals with human rights and other social and cultural issues, concluded on 19 November 2021. Australia there delivered a national statement specifically on freedom of religion and belief, which is consistent with the priority that the minister gives to this issue in our global human rights advocacy agenda.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Senator Keneally has the call.

Senator KENEALLY: I would like to ask some questions about the proposed agriculture visa. How would the department characterise the status of the visa? Is it operational?

Mr McDonald : The ag visa at the moment has one final aspect to go, which is the finalisation of the bilateral agreements. Those discussions are ongoing at the moment with a small number of South-East Asian countries.

Senator KENEALLY: Has any country signed up yet to a bilateral agreement?

Mr McDonald : No, but negotiations are proceeding with Indonesia, in particular, and we expect that they will be completed in the not-too-distant future.

Senator KENEALLY: You said 'a small number'. Can you put a number on it?

Mr McDonald : I'd just say 'a small number'. The only country that's really made that public is Indonesia, and, with the nature of the negotiations, I'd appreciate that being kept as 'a small number' of South-East Asian countries.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay. Am I correct in my recollection that there was also a public acknowledgement from Malaysia that they would not be entering into a bilateral agreement for the ag visa?

Mr McDonald : Yes. That's correct, and they gave a reason for that.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, which had to do with their own Malaysia nation program and seeking to keep workers in their domestic horticulture industry.

Mr McDonald : Yes, so at this point they didn't want to participate. They may at a later point but not at this point.

Sena tor KENEALLY: I suppose then it's safe to assume that no workers have arrived in Australia under the agriculture visa? I'm not mocking. I'm just laughing at the obvious logical conclusion of my question.

Mr McDonald : I think I can answer that in the affirmative. I would say that the discussions that are going on at the moment are normal in terms of finalising the bilateral arrangements. Discussions need to occur, as they do in any government agency, and with ministers, to finalise those to the satisfaction of those countries that we're entering into arrangements with.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister Littleproud told Sky News on 29 January that Indonesia is one of the four countries that have been prepared to name themselves in bilateral negotiations. So he's put a number out there. Are you able to confirm that number?

Mr McDonald : He has put a number out there, I agree, and we are in discussions with four countries, yes. We haven't disclosed, other than Indonesia, what those countries are.

Senator KENEALLY: In the same interview, he also said:

Marise Payne and her department are in charge of this; Marise has given us a very strong indication that those negotiations are nearly finalised and that we should see some positive outcome very soon.

Can the department confirm that that is the status of the negotiations?

Mr McDonald : I can't speak on when those negotiations will be finalised. That's a matter for Indonesia. But I would say that they're progressing very well. We've had at least six discussions, and there will be a further discussion this week. Once they've worked through those internal processes, we expect that there'll be a conclusion to that. But that's a matter for the Indonesian government, of course.

Senator KENEALLY: I believe that the minister has previously made a public commitment that the agriculture visa would be up and running by Christmas 2021. Do we have any sense that it will be up and running by, say, Easter this year?

Mr McDonald : As I said earlier, I expect those negotiations to be completed shortly. They're very active and nearing completion, but I can't put a specific time frame on it other than to say that I expect that to be quite soon.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister Littleproud also told the Sky Newsin late December that Minister Payne had given himself and the Deputy Prime Minister, 'A strong commitment that she believes she'll be able to achieve a country signing up to the ag visa in January next year.' We’re in February. I understand that sovereign countries have to make their own decisions. Minister, have you got a sense of what month we might see a country signing up to the ag visa, given that Mr Littleproud has put a month on the record?

Senator Payne: You’re correct, Senator. Sovereign countries do need to make their own decisions. That is why it’s important to work closely with those countries in an appropriately confidential and respectful manner, as we are doing. The discussions with Indonesia are well progressed. The matter has been discussed between myself and Foreign Minister Marusdi. Importantly, Minister Littleproud went to Indonesia around the time of Australia Day, if I recall correctly, to pursue these issues with counterparts as well. I think it is very important that we are able to assure sending countries, as of course we do through the PALM program as well, of the protections that will be in place for their workers the arrangements that will underpin the administration of the scheme. I am very respectful of those processes in sending countries and, particularly at this point in time, with Indonesia, and I hope to finalise those soon.

I’m also cognisant of the very significant workforce demand that exists, particularly in a number of agricultural industries around the country. That is one of the reasons that we have worked so hard with our Pacific friends in terms of the PALM program, as Mr McDonald said earlier today. We have a work-ready pool of, give or take, over 50,000 workers in the Pacific—more than half of those are double vaccinated, and the vaccination programs are in process for the others through their labour sending units. I encourage employers and the states and territories to engage with the PALM program to ensure that they can bring more Pacific workers to Australia. I signed an MOU with Timor-Leste last week in terms of addressing this demand with Foreign Minister Adaljiza Magno.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. That’s actually quite helpful. I think there would be another area of bipartisanship to be pursued in terms of bipartisan support for the Pacific Labour Scheme That's very pleasing, and I agree with you: they play an important role in filling both demand and other benefits that Australia gains from those programs.

In terms of the agriculture visa, I note a report in The Australian from 30 December 2021, which says:

The row comes amid a spat within the Coalition over the visa, with some Nationals MPs accusing the Liberal Party of obstructing the progress of the visa as they call for the deals urgently to be finalised.

Minister, are you aware of such a spat?

Senator Pa yne: That is absolutely not the case, and self-evidently not the case, given the work that is being done through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and by posts, including in Indonesia, to progress this. Again, I would even remind journalists who are writing on these matters of the need to be respectful of countries who are sending workers to Australia. I don't think that's often referred to in media reports that I see because these are sovereign decisions for them to make, and we will work with them as they do that.

Senator KENEALLY: I think that's a fair warning to give to media organisations but, to be fair to them, when they see comments on media interviews from Minister Littleproud in late December that he's got a strong commitment that there will be an agreement in January this year, it's fair enough that they might, at least, take heed of what the minister says. Have you been able to provide advice to Minister Littleproud about the status? It does seem that he has, in the past, provided commitments publicly. I note his media release from when he visited Indonesia at the end of January that he did not speak specifically to any time frame any longer. Is Minister Littleproud now aware of the proposed time frame to bring this to a conclusion?

Senator Payne: I would say, and I'll ask officials to add to this, that our agencies are working closely together. My post in Indonesia, which facilitated the minister's visit to Jakarta, is working closely with agencies as well. There are a number of agencies across the Indonesian system with which we are engaging, and, in fact, I hope to have the opportunity to discuss this with Foreign Minister Marsudi in the coming days.

Mr McDonald : I think it's fair to say that we're working very closely with the agriculture department as well as Home Affairs. We're all joined up on that, and everyone's aware of where we're up to in those negotiations.

Senator KENEALLY: Minister, have your National Party colleagues raised their concerns with you about the delay in the visa negotiations?

Senator Payne: I don't go to the detail as you know, but I had a series of very constructive conversations with a range of Nationals and Liberal colleagues from regional Australia on these issues prior to Christmas.

Senator KENEALLY: Without going into the details of the negotiations, is there a general overview that the department can provide on the types of questions that are being raised by those four countries, what they might be seeking to understand or if there are barriers to them completing bilateral agreements?

Mr McDonald : I wouldn't want to go into the details of the negotiations publicly, in a respectful way, with those countries, but I will say that of concern to them are the same issues that Minister Payne just mentioned: protection of their workers and their people with this program, as with any labour-sending program. I think the negotiations are being held in the right spirit and across government in both countries. This is a new program. It requires consideration of the issues and discussion to finalise a good agreement that we are all looking for as part of the negotiating.

Senator KENEALLY: Let me step back a bit. Having looked at the fact sheet that the department has made public in relation to the visa, I still have some questions. Do you have a sense of how many workers you're contemplating might access this visa once you've got it up and running? Is there a target? Is there an expectation?

Mr McDonald : I think it has been publicly talked about before that, in relation to this visa, following consultation across a number of stakeholders, there will be some form of cap at the start to implement the program. As the minister talked about earlier, the Pacific labour program still remains in terms of primacy, and we want to retain that. There are a number of workers that, as the minister said, are available to come into Australia now from the Pacific. So, yes, there will be some cap at the initial outset of the program. I think it's worth saying that the stakeholder consultation that has been done has been very important in terms of the various respective stakeholders understanding those issues.

Senator KENEALLY: So there is no specific projection, in terms of the number of workers, at this stage?

Mr McDonald : As you know, there are assessments done for labour market testing for any of this in terms of Australians, but I would imagine that, as this program settles in, the number of workers coming in under this program will be reviewed each year in terms of the needs that are required.

Senator KENEALLY: What sectors will be eligible? I ask that because the fact sheet seems to suggest it could be quite wide-ranging. It's more than just horticulture?

Mr McDonald : They're specified. Ms Heinecke might mention what they are. I think they're dairy—

Senator KENEALLY: They're specified, but there has also been a suggestion that it could be broader than what's specified. Maybe go through what's specified and then whether there is a capacity to broaden.

Ms Heinecke : The sectors that have been agreed at the moment, as you say, are broad. It includes all horticulture, meat processing, dairy, wool, grains, fisheries, including aquaculture, and forestry. Within that, there has been an agreement at all skills level of the ANZSCO—

Senator KENEALLY: Sorry, there is an urn going off behind me.

Ms Heinecke : I will try to speak a bit louder.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you.

Ms Heinecke : Did you want me to repeat what I said?

Senator KENEALLY: That would be great, because the urn was very loud.

Ms Heinecke : The sectors that have been agreed as part of the policy settings for the agriculture visa are across the primary industries of the agriculture sector, which includes horticulture, meat processing, dairy, wool, grains, fisheries, including aquaculture, and forestry. It does include all skills levels on the ANZSCO ranking from level 1 to level 5, which encompasses low-, semi- and high-skilled occupations, but we expect that the initial cohorts will be low-skilled positions, and that is why we get skills assessment processes in place with partner countries.

Senator KENEALLY: Is there capacity to expand, did you say, beyond those sectors?

Ms Heinecke : It needs to be broadly defined within the primary industry sectors, but at the moment they're the sectors that it includes. We're working very closely with the department of agriculture, and they've looked at the codes across all agricultural sectors, and we have got a detailed list that we have worked on with the agriculture department, which does include all the codes of all those job categories. There is scope to expand it. There are review points in place for the ag visa which would give us scope to expand those codes within primary industries.

Senator KENEALLY: What triggers the review points?

Ms Heinecke : It was agreed that there'll be a review of this as well. Importantly, we'll be looking at the numbers in line with demand and supply in the agriculture sector as part of the annual migration review, which Home Affairs leads.

Senator KENEALLY: I apologise: did you mention meatworks in that list?

Ms Heinecke : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: And all skills categories, 1 to 5?

Ms Heinecke : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Can you speak to me about the worker protections that will be in place?

Ms Heinecke : We've obviously looked very closely—and this is an important part, as Mr McDonald said, of the negotiations with various countries, and we're working with them on some of their own regulations as well that they will require for their workers, which will influence our design—at best practice. Basically we've looked at best practice in terms of our own experience on the PALM scheme, as well as other experiences in broader visas, like the temporary skills visa, the MILA in the meatworks sector, and the horticulture labour award. It will include pre-departure integrity checks. We are looking at working with an offshore provider, which will support partner sending countries to ensure the integrity of those we send.

So, there'll be an offshore process, as well as normal processes that we employ under our PALM scheme. That includes things like pre-departure worker briefings. There'll be vetting, as per the fact sheet, of employers. It is a sponsored visa, so, this is only for approved employers that go through the relevant financial, bankruptcy and Fair Work history checks. There'll be a 24/7 welfare work line. We'll be working very closely with consulates, who already perform this function here, but the consulates of those partner countries will be part of it. There will be assurance teams and, again, we'll be employing best practice across other programs. For example, that will include assurance checks of pay cheques. We're working very closely with the Fair Work Ombudsman. And, as you would be aware, Senator, we will be working within the hort award, which is going to change on 28 April, in line with minimum pay benchmarks. So, all those features will be part of the program.

Senator KENEALLY: That last part relates to the Fair Work Commission's recent decision?

M s Heinecke : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. That's helpful. I want to go back—on Indonesia, it's my understanding that they are already entitled to send 4,264 backpackers to Australia each year under the working holiday visa. Is that correct?

Mr Mc Donald : I don't know the exact number; I can't confirm that. But they can—

Senator KENEALLY: They have an allocation.

Mr McDonald : An allocation, yes.

Senator KENEALLY: And it's my understanding that that's it. So, this agriculture visa would allow Indonesian visa holders to work in Australia? And I'm not picking on Indonesia; I'm just trying to tease out, if you will, the differences and the intersection between the working holiday visa and the ag visa.

Ms Heinecke : The Working Holiday Maker visa, as you're aware, is usually negotiated as part of trade agreements. It's unsponsored in the sense that they're here for a working holiday and they're not bound to one employer. The agriculture visa is a sponsored visa, and the types of programs we've benchmarked our policy settings against are things like the meatworks industry labour award agreement and the horticulture industry labour agreement, which also applies against low- and semi-skilled occupations.

Sen ator KENEALLY: So, the agriculture visa would allow visa holders from Indonesia to work in Australia for up to three years. Do you have any sense of how many of the Indonesian visa holders are currently in Australia on working holiday visas?

Ms Heinecke : We'd have to get that data from Home Affairs as to how many are actually here at the moment.

Senator Payne: Given the last two years, I think we could expect that it's a small number.

Senator KENEALLY: I imagine that would be the case. I'm just trying to understand—and, again, I don't necessarily want you to comment on Indonesia specifically—with countries where there is an agreement for a working holiday visa, is this part of the negotiation as to whether or not ag visa numbers would be in addition to working holidays?

Ms Heinecke : No, the working holiday maker was a deal that was negotiated in the past.

Senator KENEALLY: Right. So that will stand.

Ms Heinecke : This is in addition.

Senator KENEALLY: An ag visa will be in addition?

Ms Heinecke : There are two different durations. There's a seasonal stream, which allows workers to work for up to nine months in every 12 months for a visa that can be one season or multiple over four years, or there is a long-term stream, which is for one- to four-year visas.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. I appreciate that. Does the department have any understanding of whether it's the government's aim to have fewer people in Australia under the ag visa compared to the Pacific labour program?

Mr McDonald : As I said earlier, the Pacific labour program will retain primacy. When this program commences with a cap, it will be less than the Pacific Labour Scheme, which has more than 20,000 workers currently in Australia. So, again, I think the government has been very clear about Pacific labour and its primacy in relation to this.

Senator KENEALLY: Remind me of the cap again?

Mr McDonald : As I said earlier, that needs to be finalised.

Senator KENEALLY: But it would be fewer than 20,000, presumably?

Mr McDonald : Yes. I think it would be a figure more like 1,000 to start off with.

Senator KENEALLY: Okay.

Ms Heinecke : I can add for context that just before COVID, we had about 8,000 Pacific workers across the seasonal worker scheme and Pacific Labour Scheme in country. It has expanded, obviously, with the prioritisation of the Pacific and the opening up of the borders for the Pacific. We are expecting around 25,000 by the end of March or early April to be in Australia to meet this harvest. We have made it very clear, as the minister said—we've worked very hard with employers, particularly after borders opened, when quarantine costs were no longer required to be paid by employers, which was a major constraint, and we have got a really strong pipeline in place with Pacific countries to meet that objective for this harvest.

Senator KENEALLY: As I said, I think it's quite clear that there's bipartisan support for those programs, given the benefits that they have for our region. So it's really quite useful to understand the relative numbers, the potential cap and the primacy of the Pacific labour programs.

I believe there was an answer to a question on notice—No. 84—from the most recent budget estimates that no Pacific countries have raised any concerns with the department about the potential negative impact of the proposed ag visa on Pacific labour programs. Does that remain the case?

Mr Mc Donald : Yes, that remains the case. Without checking every single person, there haven't been any concerns raised. I think part of that is to do with our information that we have provided on the Pacific Labour Scheme and its primacy.

Senator KENEALLY: Forgive me if you've covered some of this ground previously, but let me put the question in this way: are there differences in the conditions between the agriculture visa and the Pacific labour programs? I'm thinking about things like industry accreditation and, say, English requirements.

Ms Heinecke : Yes, there will be differences, and there are a number of reasons for some of those differences. I'll set out a few. First of all, in the Pacific scheme, we do provide considerable support, noting that it is partly funded through the development program to Pacific governments. So part of what we do is actually supporting each of the labour ministries in the 10 countries we work with to support their capacity. That includes other recruitments and other policies that they have in the labour-sending space. Skills development is a part of what we do in the Pacific scheme which won't be part of the ag visa. It is not ODA funded. English requirements will be set at an IELTS-level international English equivalent of 4.0. In the Pacific, we don't have a specific qualification around English. We do require it—having adequate English—in our Seasonal Worker Program deed, which is judged by each labour-sending unit.

There are also differences, as I said before, around the skills level. In the Pacific labour schemes, as I think I said in earlier evidence—and as Senator Fawcett was asking about—we provide not just to the agriculture sector. Although the agriculture and meatworks sectors are the largest parts of it, we can provide assistance to any sector in regional and rural Australia. Aged care, tourism, hospitality and some areas of light manufacturing are important growth areas for Pacific labour. Pacific labour at the moment also is only from skill levels 1 to 3, whereas the agriculture visa will allow people to come in under skill levels 1 to 2, higher skills.

Senator KENEALLY: Yes, thank you. What about a pathway to permanency? Minister Joyce and Minister Littleproud's media release on 23 August said:

It will complement the Pacific programs we have got in place but also provide a pathway to permanent residency.

Is it the government's intention for this visa to provide a pathway to permanent residency?

Mr Mc Donald : I think it's fair to say that the government is committed to creating options around that, but, as I said earlier, in the negotiations we're just trying to finalise the first of the bilateral arrangements firstly. I think that will involve further consultation and design work in the future.

Senator KENEALLY: Home Affairs answered on Monday a question about whether there will be a pathway to permanency as part of the agriculture visa. Their answer was:

Yes, the government has committed to creating options for permanent residents.

So is the government committed to permanent residency? I can appreciate it might not be fully designed yet, but is the government committed—

Mr McDonald : Yes, they're committed to creating options, as you just said.

Senator KENEALLY: They're committed to creating options?

Mr McDonald : For permanent residency pathways.

Senator KENEALLY: I know we sound now like we're in an episode of Yes, Minister, and I do apologise. You can create options, but that doesn't mean you're necessarily committed to creating a pathway to permanency. I go back to the media release. Ministers Joyce and Littleproud said that it will provide a pathway to permanency. Are we just creating options or are we committed to a pathway?

Mr McDonald : The responsible department around that is Home Affairs. You had that discussion with them on Monday in terms of the design of the pathways, so I don't have anything to add.

Ms Heinecke : I think the answer is that the options are for future consideration for government.

Senator KENEALLY: I understand that the options are, but is the goal of a pathway to permanency a commitment of the government?

Senator Payne: We'll make further announcements on that in the future. What we are doing now is looking at, to use the words Mr McDonald used, what those pathways might be. It does require a great deal of consultation and does require design work. We will make further announcements on that in due course.

Senator KENEALLY: I understand that, Minister. I'm trying to understand whether you are going to announce what the pathway looks like or you are going to announce that there will be a pathway?

Senator Payne: I think the consultations and the design work are part of that process. We need to receive those to inform that.

Senator KENEALLY: Does that mean that Minister Joyce and Minister Littleproud were a bit premature when they said in their media release on 23 August that the ag visa will 'also provide a pathway to permanent residency'?

Senator Payne: My only qualification is to say that it does require the consultation and the design work to go with it. That is what we have to do and then we'll make further announcements on that.

Senator KENEALLY: [inaudible] brief the Deputy Prime Minister and the ag minister. I have a couple of quick questions before we round off this, Chair—just to give you an update. The department's fact sheet does state that there are 55,000 prescreened Pacific employees ready to deploy, subject to quarantine arrangements. I suppose the question is: if there are 55,000, why do we need a visa that, at best, sounds like may provide only 1,000 or a few thousand people a year? What is the problem we're trying to solve if we have 55,000, and yet we may only get a small number each year on an ag visa, given the amount of time and effort we're putting into these negotiations? I'm trying to understand: what's the reward, the return on investment, that we're going to get? What's the benefit we're going to get, if we've got 55,000 already screened and ready to go, in what you say is the primary program, and we're going to get a fairly small number from the ag visa?

Mr McDonald : As I said earlier, as to the 55,000—or, let's say, over 50,000, because some have come in as well—that will retain primacy, but the whole idea behind both of these visas is to meet the workforce requirements of those sectors. So that will inform the demand that arises. There are a whole set of things in the Pacific at the moment that are restricting some of the workforce coming to Australia, as you know, around COVID and the like. So there are other factors at play here. More options, I think, for industry, and the Pacific remaining in the primacy are key.

Senator KENEALLY: How many staff does the department have working on these negotiations?

Mr McDonald : Ms Heinecke has a branch that's responsible for this and they are working very hard and very actively at the moment. I'm not sure of the exact numbers. She might be able to help us.

Ms Heinecke : At the moment, we have about 12 or 13 people in that branch, but it's really important to point out that they're not all working on those bilateral negotiations. That team is also needed to develop the policy settings across government, the program design and the procurements that we're progressing in country as well as in Australia. So there is a much broader set of work that they're doing, other than the bilateral negotiations.

Senator KENEALLY: But that's work all geared around the—

Ms Heinecke : Yes. The branch is about 12 or 13 people at the moment.

Mr McDonald : I think it's fair to say that our posts are very important in this as well. They've done a lot of activity—

Senator KENEALLY: And the posts are engaged as well?

Mr McDonald : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: So you've got about a dozen people in Australia and overseas posts working on the program—

Mr McDonald : Yes, on the negotiations.

Senator KENEALLY: on the negotiations, the design of the program and the like. That then leads me to wonder why this is the best use of our resources in South-East Asia, given that the Pacific labour schemes and the PALM scheme remain. You have primacy; there are 55,000 prescreened; we are only going to have a relatively small number coming in on the ag visa. I'm just trying to understand again the relative return on investment.

Mr McDonald : On that, I think the small number is at the outset, which we often do on programs, to test the design, to test that it's doing what the government would like it to do. So I would expect those numbers to increase over time, subject to demand in Australia.

Senator KENEALLY: But not to grow larger than the Pacific—

Mr McDonald : Correct.

Senator KENEALLY: and the PALM schemes?

Mr McDonald : And, as Ms Heinecke mentioned earlier, the PALM scheme is growing at quite a substantial rate, to 25,000 by March, so the demand in Australia at the moment is still large for those workers.

Sen ator KENEALLY: Sure, but—

Mr McDonald : I think we'll just have to see, over time, how that all plays out.

Senator KENEALLY: Mr McDonald, this is not a criticism to you, but this has been pitched or there has been a perception around this visa that it will resolve the current issues of workforce shortages, and it appears that it will not because it's not yet operational, and, even once it's operational, it still will have a significant lead-in time before it builds up to anything that resembles a substantial number of workers coming here.

Mr McDonald : I don't think you can say definitively that it won't end up being a substantial number of workers—

Senator KENEALLY: But it's not going to resolve this year's harvest or even next year's harvest.

Mr McDonald : I don't think you can forecast into next year's harvest. As I said earlier, the negotiations with Indonesia are proceeding and will be completed, hopefully, soon, and then the visa will be able to become operational, so—

Senator KENEALL Y: And that's one country in a program that's going to be capped and that is going to supply a substantially fewer number of workers than the Pacific labour programs?

Mr McDonald : Yes, and certainly initially. And that's not different to the Pacific program when it commenced with smaller numbers. Any program commences that way.

Senator Payne: That's right. I think Ms Heinecke referred earlier to the start-up, if you like, of the Pacific schemes themselves, particularly the Pacific Labour Scheme, and we have seen those grow in size. I expect that progressively the agriculture visa will do the same, but it's a new program, and, as you know, in the migration system it is complex. We're working very hard on that consultation as well.

Ms Heinecke : Senator, on the start-up, could I add that we have worked, in designing this, very closely with an industry stakeholder group. We've had very extensive consultations with a number of bodies, including unions. On the stakeholder group in particular: we've worked with this group of stakeholders, which includes the National Farmers Federation and organisations like the Australian Fresh Produce Alliance, AUSVEG, the Approved Employers Association and the meatworks association. Their preference has actually been to work with us to get the settings right. In working with them it's been very clear that we will look at a scale-up over time. So it will be a gradual scale-up. We were looking at an initial phase to test the settings, which would then allow us to scale up as some countries start to come on board.

Senator KENEALLY: This might be premature, since we don't actually have any agreements in place yet, but can you give any indication of how DFAT is planning to administer this program once it is operational—that is, will you need to recruit additional staff?

Ms Heinecke : We will be employing a similar model to what we have for the Pacific labour schemes, and that is, as I said before, we'll have an offshore contractor that has experience working in Asian countries. We're in the midst of that process at the moment. We'll also have an onshore provider that will provide some of the services that I outlined before in the assurance and welfare space. It will have that responsibility, but the department will also have staff members in the team who will play some of the relationship, risk escalation policy, adoption of the policy, whole-of-government work and stakeholder management roles that will happen in the department. So it will be a mixed delivery model, a hybrid delivery model.

Senator KENEALLY: So does DFAT—could you just explain this to be again—have the responsibility for enforcing compliance with the rules and conditions of the visa?

Ms Heinecke : It's similar to the Pacific labour mobility schemes. We have a deed, which we will have in place as well for the ag visa, and that sets out our requirements. It provides what we expect from an assurance perspective. Obviously, it's required to be in line with the various awards that the different employment contracts are made under, but, yes, we will have that responsibility. Particularly in the assurance welfare space, we will outsource that to the private sector through the procurement that will be underway shortly.

Senator KENEALLY: Has any new funding been allocated to the department?

Ms Heinecke : Yes, in the MYEFO process there was $87.2 million across four years allocated across government. Sorry; I can't find the table with the specifics for DFAT right now, but DFAT was allocated around $50 million over the four years, with a scale-up over time. I can take that on notice. It is in the MYEFO documents.

Ms Campbell : So this is the agriculture visa?

Mr McDonald : Yes.

Ms Heinecke : It's $87 million across government.

Ms Campbell : It is page 18 of the additional estimates document. I think you've got to add both the departmental and the administered together.

Mr McDonald : Yes.

Ms Campbell : It's in the document where there's an amount of money for the administered annual approps, which is about $47 million across the forwards, and for the Australian agriculture visa, for the departmental, which is about $14 million across the forwards.

Senator KENEALLY: Senator Van, I've concluded my questions.

Senator AYRES: I have some questions about the ODA budget, and I just wanted to follow up on a question on notice response to Senator Wong on that.

Ms Klugman : My colleague and I will be able to help you with some answers together.

Senator AYRES: I've reviewed the response that the department provided to Senator Wong on 28 October 2021. Is the department able to provide an update to its response to each of those questions? I think we've traditionally gone through a similar process at previous estimates.

Ms Klugman : Can you remind us of what was in that?

Senator AYRES: If you don't have it in front of you, the first set of responses goes to the pause in the ongoing base ODA, and then it sets out what the impact of indexation is going to be over 2021-22, 2022-23 and ongoing financial years. Would it help if I tabled the question?

Ms Campbell : Do you know which number it is? I think I've got the wrong one. This was at the budget hearings, not the supplementary budget hearings?

Senator AYRES: Yes, I think so. The title of my document here is just 'Senator Wong, ODA budget, 28 October 2020-21 responses'.

Ms Campbell : And the question number?

Senator AYRES: I don't have a question on notice. It's from the supplementary budget estimates in October, so it must have been handed up—

Ms Campbell : So it was from supplementary budget estimates—

Senator AYRES: Let me see if I can walk you through it without you having it in front of you.

Mr Hilton : I don't have the exact question, but I think I know exactly what you're getting at, which is to walk through the adjusted forward estimates for the total ODA budget.

Senator AYRES: Are there adjusted forward estimates that are an update that could be provided today?

Mr Hilton : Yes. They were adjusted and they were highlighted in the PAES, so we can provide that update. I'm happy to read through the figures or I can provide that on notice.

Senator AYRES: Terrific. Could you do that.

Mr Hilton : For the current financial year, the baseline ODA remains $4 billion. The temporary measures on top of that remain at $329.11 million, with a total ODA for 2021-22 being $4,329.11 billion. For financial year 2022-23, the baseline ODA is $4,088.7 billion and the temporary measures above that are $179 million, for a total ODA in financial year 2022-23 of $4,267.7 billion. For 2023-24, the baseline ODA is $4,199 billion, with the temporary measures on top of that of $106.47 million, for a total ODA in that financial year of $4,305.47 billion.

Senator AYRES: So the commitment to resuming indexing is still being followed through in terms of the base component, but effectively there are some updates—so those figures are somewhat different to the figures that Senator Wong was provided with in October, but they're not substantially different.

Mr Hilton : Yes.

Senator AYRES: There's a decline in one year and an uplift in another, but essentially the trajectory is for there to be substantial cuts in our total aid budget for this year and next year.

Mr Hilton : No.

Ms Campbell : No.

Senator AYRES: Well, we go from a total amount in 2021-22—put aside last year—of $4,329 billion to $4,267 billion in 2022-23, and then we start to see some upward movement in 2023-24. If we put the temporary measures and the base measures together, that's what we effectively get, isn't it?

Mr Hi lton : As we measure the ODA budget, we rely on the figures in the baseline ODA. As you can see there, they are increasing in line with the government's commitment to index that budget over those forward estimates.

Senator AYRES: The pause stops in terms of the base figure—

Mr Hilton : The pause stops, yes.

Senator AYRES: but the overall figure, the combined effect of a period of pausing plus a number of these temporary programs concluding—the overall impact of that is a fall this year and a fall next year and then an uplift in 2023-24, if you put the base and the temporary programs together.

Senator Payne: The base continues to be $4 billion, which the government has been quite explicit about.

Senator AYRES: Yes, I think we are agreeing. You just don't want to characterise it as a cut.

Senator Payne: Because it's not.

Senator AYRES: The base has been paused and then indexed. The temporary programs are there, and then they are reducing. The combined effect of those two things is that the overall expenditure on the overseas development assistance budget reduces next year.

Senator Payne: The baseline ODA, as we talked about before on multiple occasions, is $4 billion. Events of COVID in particular and overwhelmingly have required the supplementation that we've talked about, whether it's in the context of Partnerships for Recovery or the Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative or the economic impacts of COVID-19 in South-East Asia. Through a range of things, the government has always been very clear about what the base is and continues to be in terms of it being a very targeted and focused overseas development assistance program.

Senator AYRES: We're only arguing about how it's characterised. I see an overall expenditure in overseas aid that decreases over last year, this year and the coming year. You want to point to the base component and say that only that is frozen. The truth is that, since 2014, there has been a cut—I'll review these figures—of somewhere between $11 billion and $12 billion in the government's commitment here, hasn't there?

Senator Payne: We've discussed this many times, including with your colleague Senator Wong, and indicated that the government have planned and set the $4 billion baseline in a way which we think is targeted and focused and affordable within the context of the full budget.

Senator AYRES: Let's just look at a couple of these temporary measures then. The Pacific COVID-19 Response Package supports the Pacific and Timor-Leste. The development outlook in the Pacific and South-East Asia has worsened; it's not got better. Are we still terminating that program this financial year?

Senator Payne: The government will make those decisions in due course as part of, as you would imagine, budget processes.

Senator AYRES: There's no prospect of that in the forwards that were provided to Senator Wong. Is there some change in the government's position in terms of that temporary measure?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure what you mean.

Senator AYRES: The information that we were provided with was: $200 million in 2020-21, $100 million in 2021-22 and zero in 2022-23.

Senator Payne: The government will make budget decisions in the normal course, as you would expect, in relation to these matters. I think there is a strong record of our commitment to the Pacific, which, again, we've discussed through these hearings and many preceding hearings, including in the context of the Pacific Step-up, and that commitment absolutely continues.

Senator AYRES: I want to understand what you're saying. Last year when this was dealt with there was no provision for 2022-23, but I don't want to put this any more highly than this: the government is considering its position in relation to that. Is that right?

Senator Payne: We would always do that in terms of what further commitments need to be made—of course.

Senator AYRES: There's a difference between a catch-all, 'We can always consider everything'—is there some active consideration of that line item being extended? The message that's been sent to the aid community and to the region is that program terminates this financial year.

Senator Payne: I'm not going to engage in pre-budget speculation. You may expect me to, but I won't.

Senator AYRES: Similarly, the support to the Pacific and South-East Asian countries is scheduled to terminate in 2022-23—same answer?

Senator Payne: My response would be similar. And, again, in terms of the commitments we've made, in South-East Asia in particular, in response, again, to COVID response and recovery, have affirmed our commitment to the region—reinforced our commitment to the region—and that is something that the government's been very clear about.

Senator AYRES: Is it just that the chickens are coming home to roost in terms the impact of a somewhere between $11 billion and $12 billion cut in foreign aid? It's now having an impact, isn't it?

Senator Payne: I think that's rhetorical to be honest, because for the period of time in which I have held this role I have been consistent in articulating the government's position in relation to that $4 billion base. The work that we have done in the last two calendar years in relation to health, security, partnerships, recovery, COVID response, vaccine distribution, vaccine delivery support—all of those initiatives—are a clear indication of our strong commitments with our partners on what is the most difficult issue that we have faced in this region in generations.

Senator AYRES: Yes, and there's the likelihood of long-term economic scarring in some of the countries in the region because of the impact. The Sustainable Development Goals set an objective of the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030. If we just consider our region, has DFAT done some analysis about what would be required to reach the goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030?

Senator Payne: We're constantly assessing and reviewing needs in the region. That's one of the reasons why this year a record $1.44 billion contribution in ODA to the Pacific is such an important part of our programs. And we work with international counterparts with all of the multilateral agencies in these assessments, all the time, constantly. In fact, Ms Klugman's area of the department is very much engaged, as you would expect, in all of these—not just here in Australia but also in the multilateral centres in New York, Geneva and elsewhere.

Senator AYRES: I understand other partners are engaged in our region but if the objective—

Senator Payne: We deliver a lot through partners as well, as you know.

Senator AYRES: Yes, in conjunction. There are partnerships when we've engaged in some of these projects, and in some of them we are on our own. But if the objective that we've signed up to is the eradication of extreme poverty by 2030, what analysis has the department done to determine whether or not, in conjunction with our partners, we're meeting that objective in the region?

Senator Payne: As I said, that's core business. That's what we do all the time.

Senator AYRES: Secretary, what's the nature of that work? I hesitate to use the phrase 'gap analysis', but what is the gap between when what our objective is and what is likely to occur?

Ms Klugman : The sustainable development goals are a really important motivating force behind the development cooperation program. We have done work over the last couple of years to take account of the COVID situation and, with the coming of the Partnerships for Recovery framework, to translate the SDGs into our Partnerships for Recovery. We can come back to you on notice, if you wish, with some of the detail of that work that has been done. You're quite right, particularly in light of the economic and other damage done by COVID-19, but before that some countries in our region were also struggling to achieve the progress they wanted to achieve against the SDGs. We are in very active dialogue with each of those governments, particularly but not only in the Pacific, and the SDGs continue to be a really important touch point for us as we go through.

Senator AYRES: Are you able to provide that on notice? That deals with the other objectives of education, health care, gender equality—

Ms Klugman : The sustainable development goals, yes.

Senator AYRES: Where do we currently rank amongst the OEC Development Assistance Committee donor countries in terms of ODA assistance as a proportion of gross national income?

Ms Klugman : I don't have a ranking with me, but I can take that on notice.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me where we were in 2020 and 2021 in terms of our ODA-to-GNI ratio?

Senator Payne: We'll come back to you on that.

Senator AYRES: You don't have any additional information?

Senator Payne: We've already taken it on notice.

Senator AYRES: I'm just surprised that officers at the table wouldn't be in a position to tell me what our current overseas ODA-to-GNI ratio is.

Senator Payne: I want to make sure that we provide all the correct information to you. The officers are always helpful to this committee—always.

Senator AYRES: It's not the officers I'm—

CHAIR: Remain surprised, Senator, and ask the next question.

Senator Payne: Feel free to reflect on me any time you like.

Senator AYRES: I didn't do that. The Centre for Global Development's 2021 Commitment to Development Index ranked Australia 27th out of 40 countries. Looking at traditional OECD or donor countries, we're ranked 21st out of 22 countries on development and finance. Doesn't that diminishing position for Australia over time reflect the chickens coming home to roost in terms of the reduction of our commitment to overseas aid since 2014?

Senator Payne: I don't agree with your characterisation. I think Ms Klugman is going to add to that.

Ms Klugman : Mr Hilton might have something to say about the specific league tables that you're talking about. One thing we find is a really important factor in understanding those league tables is that we're often being compared against countries that do a great deal of lending under their aid program. As you know, our aid program—our development cooperation program—has traditionally, and either exclusively or preponderantly, been a grant aid program. I think that's actually quite an important factor to take into account when you're looking at these sorts of league tables.

Senator AYRES: In MYEFO the government provided just over $160 million over nine years for the comprehensive strategic partnership with ASEAN. Will any of that funding be ODA?

Ms Klugman : Yes. A portion of that is ODA.

Senator AYRES: How is that portion allocated?

Ms Klugman : It depends on what it's being spent on.

Senator Payne: In conformity with the DAC guidelines and assessed against the DAC guidelines.

Senator AYRES: Does that mean all you can say about that at this stage is that a portion of it will, because there's some and there's beyond the forwards—

Ms Klugman : Yes, well—

Senator AYRES: Is it possible to determine now how much of that will be allocated, or is that something that can't be determined at this stage?

Ms Klugman : We have some indicative figures, but always with these things you only really know in retrospect—

Senator AYRES: Could you provide those on notice?

Ms Klugman : Sure.

Senator AYRES: Regarding scholarships to support ASEAN students, are scholarships for students from developing countries likely to be ODA?

Ms Klugman : Yes.

Senator AYRES: The MYEFO measure on international economic support includes a loan of 250 million IMF special drawing rights—I think that's nearly half a billion Australian dollars. There's a further contribution of 36 million special drawing rights to the IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust. I understand that's a Treasury measure, but the question for DFAT, I suppose, is whether a portion of those special drawing rights, loans and contributions is ODA.

Mr Hilton : I understand there is a proportion. I'd have to take it on notice and get back to you with the exact proportion.

Senator AYRES: So the answer is 'a proportion' and you'll be able to come back to me on notice with a bit more information about that?

Mr Hilton : Yes.

Senator AYRES: I think the IMF made a general allocation of SDRs to member countries in August last year. According to the IMF's website, that included 6.3 billion SDRs issued to Australia. Is that correct?

Mr Hilton : I'd need to check that.

Ms Klugman : That's a Treasury lead, but we can check and come back to you.

Senator AYRES: Is the Australian government considering channelling further SDRs to assist developing countries, beyond the 286 million?

Ms Klugman : The Australian government has recently made a decision to allow that to happen. I don't know where your briefing takes you up to. As I said, that's a Treasury lead. But we can take on notice what we've done so far and what might be contemplated for future reallocations of SDRs.

Senator AYRES: Thank you. What mechanisms for redistributing Australia's holdings are under examination?

Ms Klugman : It's done through the IMF and our participation as a member of the IMF. As I said, that's led by the Treasury.

Senator AYRES: There's a 100 billion target, I think, that's been—

Ms Klugman : That's my understanding.

Senator AYRES: What does Australia regard as our fair share of that undertaking?

Ms Klugman : I'll have to take that on notice.

Senator AYRES: The G20 summit in October set the target that I just outlined, which is 15 per cent of the additional IMF SDR allocation last year. I suspect you'll take this on notice as well, but are the Australian contributions of 286 million SDRs to the IMF Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust 4½ per cent of Australia's additional SDR allocation last year? It seems, in the absence of some change, we're lagging.

Ms Klugman : I'll have to take that on notice.

Senator AYRES: Yes, could you take the detail on notice? Minister, why are we behind the pace there?

Senator Payne: I didn't hear all of your question, and I did hear Ms Klugman say that she would take that on notice, so let me review the Hansard and I'll come back to you.

Senator AYRES: Okay. Thank you.

Senator KENEALLY: Chair, I have a few short questions, and I think Senator Kitching also has questions.

CHAIR: And, in a moment of weakness, I agreed that Senator Rice could have the last five minutes—as in, from 5.55. So you have 20 minutes.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. I think I'll be rather quick. I just want to return to the matter that Senator Fawcett raised, about Mr Chau Van Kham. I appreciate the information that was provided in response to his questions. Minister, you did travel to Vietnam last November. Did you have the opportunity to raise that case with your counterparts?

Senator Payne: My recollection is that, in that discussion this morning, I indicated that I raised Mr Kham's case with the Prime Minister in Vietnam; with the foreign minister in Vietnam; and with the Home Affairs minister's equivalent, whose title I don't have top of mind.

Senator KENEALLY: Thank you. I do apologise; I was dealing with another matter. That's helpful. What was the response received? Did you indicate that this morning as well?

Senator Payne: Not just those representations but also the representations we have made here in Canberra and in Hanoi through our post are received and noted, and we seek to have them actioned.

Senator KENEALLY: The Australia-Vietnam human rights dialogue on 8 December 2021—was Mr Chau's case raised in that forum?

Mr Wilcock : Yes.

Senator KENEALLY: How often does the department provide updates to Mr Chau's family?

Mr Wilcock : I would have to come back to you on the exact frequency, but we are in regular contact with Mr Kham's family, yes.

Senator KENEALLY: Have we had confirmation that he has been vaccinated for COVID?

Mr Wilcock : Yes, we have.

Senator KENEALLY: I understand you may not have visibility of this, but what are the current prospects for his release?

Senator Payne: I don't think we can speculate on that. I don't wish to breach any privacy obligations that the department holds in our consular role either, but, being well aware of the circumstances in which Mr Kham finds himself—by virtue of his age and other factors—we are advocating for his release.

Senator KENEALLY: I am happy to cede my time to—

CHAIR: Senator Kitching—the birthday girl!

Sena tor Payne: So the cake was misleading. Senator Kitching didn't produce it—

CHAIR: Yes, we are all very bitterly disappointed.

Senator KITCHING: Senator Abetz asked for [inaudible].

CHAIR: I got a cappuccino but—

Senator KITCHING: Could I ask about Mr Puna, in relation to his stepping aside and whether we have been involved in those negotiations?

Mr McDonald : Good afternoon, Senator Kitching. This was in relation to the speculation around Mr Puna?

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Mr McDonald : And your question was, 'What involvement?'

Senator KITCHING: Yes. Have we been involved in the negotiations around his stepping aside?

Mr McDonald : No. Those negotiations or discussions would be led by the chair of the PIF, which is Fiji. So we—

Senator KITCHING: So we've had no involvement?

Mr McDonald : Right through, we have been advocating for the unity of the PIF, wanting the PIF to remain together. Whatever is decided as a result of the discussions that occur would require a consensus agreement amongst the PIF countries, and we're supporting that. Of course, the pause that was announced recently is something we're very supportive of to allow the discussions to continue. There's also been a lot of advocacy about unity and staying together by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, and officials. Ms Peak may want to add to that, but that's my summary.

Ms Peak : I'll just add to Mr McDonald's answers. On 12 February, the Federated States of Micronesia indicated that it would pause its withdrawal from the forum. Of course, that's a welcome development. That provides time for the negotiations to retain Pacific Islands Forum unity to proceed. Those negotiations are ongoing. Fiji, the Pacific Islands Forum chair, is absolutely in the lead on that, and we support Fiji progressing those negotiations.

Senator KITCHING: I want to go to evidence given by the ABC managing director in relation to programs they're doing in the Indo-Pacific and countering rising Chinese media in the region. I'm not sure whether you saw his comments—you did?

Ms Peak : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Firstly, I'd just like an overview of the arrangements that DFAT has arrived at with the ABC. Is it the purpose of those to counter an increase in Chinese media?

Ms Peak : We've had a longstanding engagement in the Pacific media sector for many years. In fact, our arrangements with the ABC, and our support through ABC International Development's engagement, to strengthen the media sector has been longstanding—indeed, 14 years long.

Our engagement with the ABC supports a range of media activities: journalist training, to support the independence of journalists, and media infrastructure, and, importantly, it supports the development of local Pacific content. As I said, that has been a longstanding engagement of 14 years. It's now in its third phase, which will conclude at the end of 2022. We would then look to proceed to a new phase.

Senator KITCHING: Would you look to expand the programs involved with that?

Ms Peak : As we go through each new phase of any development program, we take into account the new circumstances that we face and the effectiveness of the previous programs, and we look to improve every time. The particular design of the next phase would be a matter for the design process as we go forward.

Senator Payne: Senator, I understand the context of your question and the evidence which was given last night, which I've read about but I didn't see. But I think it's also important, as Ms Peak has reminded us, that we have been engaged in this work for a long time now. It's a combination of supporting a resilient and independent Pacific media, which is not always comfortable for the Pacific either but is very important, and we acknowledge and recognise that—I've been on the receiving end of some of their questioning in a number of countries around the Pacific, only to find they were trained in their forensic approach by Australians and through our development program—and it's also about amplifying Australian voices in the Pacific and reinforcing the partnership that exists between Australia and those countries.

I welcomed hearing about David Anderson's comments, that the ABC was looking at ways to expand its presence. I understand that they've communicated with government—obviously, that will be considered.

CHAIR: Senator Van would like the call for a few minutes before Senator Rice.

Senator VAN: I was going to add a small thing which you might be interested in, Senator, which is the PacificAus TV initiative that the government's put in place for three years. It's a $17 million program that rolls out Australian content to the region. The three most popular shows there have been The Voice, SeaChange and 60 Minutes. Content is getting out there through the government's initiative. That initiative is run through the infrastructure department.

Senator KITCHING: Do we have a breakdown of what percentage of media in the region would be Australian, what percentage would be Chinese, what percentage would be from the island nations of the Indo-Pacific?

Senator Payne: In terms of the volume of voice?

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Senator Payne: I'm not sure; we can check.

Mr McDonald : I would say it does vary from country to country. We can have a look at it, but it's probably not something we have readily available. We could take it on notice and have a look.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you, that would be great. While we're in the region, I'll go to the Micronesian undersea cable. Were there institutional mechanisms which were involved in bringing the six countries together in order to do this cabling?

Ms Peak : Yes. The East Micronesia cable is designed to connect Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia to the HANTRU-1 cable. The mechanisms that we've used are two-fold: first, consulting with these three countries, most importantly, and ensuring that they were comfortable with the design of the cable; and secondly, consulting with our trilateral infrastructure partnership colleagues, the US and Japan, to arrange the financing. You may know the foreign minister, along with her counterparts from the US and Japan and leaders from the three Pacific Island countries, announced that we would be proceeding with the East Micronesia cable, and negotiations are very active to finalise the financing agreements.

Senator KITCHING: Do you have a cost yet?

Ms Peak : We are finalising that at the moment in terms of the absolute details of that. We are working in an envelope, but we usually disclose that at the time of the financing agreement in order not to prejudice the negotiations.

Senator KITCHING: I was going to ask you how much Australia would contribute, but can you give me a percentage if not a cost?

Ms Peak : That's still to be negotiated. But, like all projects under the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, once the financing agreements are struck, those details will become public.

Senator KITCHING: And it is through that mechanism.

Ms Peak : It is from the Australian perspective, yes.

Senator KITCHING: Have you got timings for the project, when it's expected to be commencing and then ending?

Ms Peak : I would have to take that one on notice. The first step for us, the one we're working very hard towards, is closing the financing. At that point there will be a procurement process.

Senator Payne: We're at the beginning of this.

Ms Peak : We're at the beginning; that's correct.

Senator Payne: I was struck in Palau recently—December, I think—

Senato r FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Nice place to be stuck.

Senator Payne: I said 'struck'. But as it happens, I also was stuck in Palau by cyclone conditions, so it was one of those strange experiences. I was struck at the sod turn of the Palau cable for the landing site by the quite extraordinary enthusiasm not just of the leadership but at community level, particularly with young people who realise what a transformative effect it can have on their education systems and health professionals who realise how it'll transform health systems. That again is a trilateral infrastructure partnership program between Australia, Japan and the United States. I don't have the sums for that with me, but it may be worth, through you, Chair, doing a AIFFP and infrastructure in the Pacific update to the committee. I think you'd find it very interesting.

Senator KITCHING: That would be great.

Senator Payne: I'm happy to offer that.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. We'd be very happy to accept.

Senator Payne: The deputy accepted for you, Chair.

CHAIR: Yes. So it seems. Senator Van: five minutes.

Senator VAN: Could the department outline some of the results that we've achieved in the Pacific and south-east through our additional COVID related support, in both health and economic terms?

Mr McDonald : I can talk about the Pacific, in terms of what's been achieved there. Our contribution has been substantial. We talked a little bit, I think, with other officers about the government's agreement to temporary funding of $300 million in the region. That has been extremely important, particularly in terms of frontline workers being paid. As you can imagine, Senator Van, the impact on vulnerable groups has been significant. We're concerned about other unintended consequences of shutting the border. We're also concerned about a lot of these countries in terms of just enabling their frontline workers to go to work by getting paid, so the government agreed to that package, which has been extremely important. We've also delivered, I think, three million vaccines or thereabouts into the region—I can be corrected on that but it's that sort of figure—which has resulted in Fiji, for example, a country that you'd be interested in, being double vaccinated up into the 90 per cent range, now going through their third wave and coming out of omicron. It is now open and tourism is coming back in. So we've seen that some of the contributions that we've made with like-minded countries in the region are starting to pay dividends.

Senator VAN: And it hasn't just been vaccines and the financial support. There has also been other health support, hasn't there?

Mr McDonald : Yes, there has. It's been the complete spectrum. In some countries we've inserted health experts into the country to assist. It's been all the PPE that goes with that, and when Australia goes into these countries it uses what we call wraparound services. That is basically the vaccines or the PPE getting to where they need to get to in a country. You think about trying to get it out in a country like Solomon Islands. So it has been a very extensive contribution package from the government.

Senator VAN: Are there other non-ODA instruments, such as loans and defence cooperation? How has that complemented our development assistance?

Mr McDonald : As was just talked about, in terms of AIFFP, I think it would be good to get a good briefing on those, but we're very conscious of those loans assisting with some of the economic growth you would want to see come back into these countries—like Australia trying to generate jobs and economic opportunity, particularly where there are such large young populations. That's a factor that we're building into those projects as well.

Senator VAN: Thank you. Ms Klugman, did you want to add anything to that?

Ms Klugman : I think Mr McDonald has set it out very clearly. The only additional contribution that I can make usefully is just to talk a little bit about Partnerships for Recovery. That's the minister's framework under which all of these things have been rolling out. As you say, that's a framework purpose built for a COVID circumstance. It has three pillars. One is, indeed, health security, which you mentioned. Stability and economic recovery are very much part of that. Some of the temporary targeted and supplementary measures that the government has announced and has rolled out last year and this year are very much focused on hitting those pillars. On economic recovery in particular, I think of the work that we've done through the program, and building on decades of partnership with, for example, Pacific governments through budget support and really putting our efforts behind the governments of the Pacific so that they can make sure they are best able to make decisions not only about priorities in delivering their services to their people but also, in current circumstances, with a particular focus on health systems, on other basic services and on payment for health workers, for police and for other essential workers. All of this has been part and parcel of what we have achieved through Partnerships for Recovery.

The last thing I'll say, particularly sitting next to Senator Payne—she would scowl at me if I didn't point out that—

Senator KENEALLY: She wouldn't scowl!

Senator Payne: I have been accused of glaring, not a lot of scowling.

Ms Klugma n : She should scowl at me if I don't point out that gender equality is in a very material way supporting women, their children and the most vulnerable people with disabilities in everything we do under all of those three pillars of Partnerships for Recovery. It has been front and centre and a key cross-cutting theme, as we say in the game.

Senator VAN: They are very important measures. Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, take us home.

Senator RICE: I have a few follow-up questions on Myanmar. Minister, you mentioned earlier that you had engage with the Future Fund shareholder ministers about US sanctions on Myanmar.

Senator Payne: I said I had written to them or engaged with them; I can't remember what term I used.

Senator RICE: I've got the transcript where you said 'I have engaged' and that DFAT was going to engage with the Future Fund. I just want a bit more information if you could help us out. So have you met with the shareholder ministers, Birmingham and Frydenberg, about this issue?

Senator Payne: I have raised it with them. I don't think there's been a specific meeting on this issue. But, of course, as they are the finance minister and the Treasurer, I meet with them all the time.

Senator RICE: Yes, but on this issue?

Senator Payne: There was not a specific meeting, no.

Senator RICE: We're aware now of one instance of the Future Fund divesting from a company. Has there been a broader process of identifying companies which the Future Fund should potentially divest from?

Senator Payne: Do you mean by DFAT?

Senator RICE: By DFAT, yes.

Senator Payne: I don't believe so. The Future Fund has its own processes. As you know, it invests independently from government. It has a policy on environmental, social and governance matters, as I understand it. In seeking to provide briefings from DFAT in the context of that existing governance framework, I was reaching out to my colleagues to say that DFAT can provide further information and further context to the Future Fund. Ultimately, it's a broad matter for Finance.

Senator RICE: You said in your earlier evidence that DFAT is going to engage with the Future Fund and increase their engagement with the Future Fund in response to that. I wanted some more details about what that was going to be.

Senator Payne: When the finance minister responded to my correspondence, which was only earlier this month, there was a welcoming of the offer of briefings by DFAT. That process has not commenced, to the best of my knowledge, but ultimately it is something which we are engaging on.

Senator RICE: Is there any more detail about what that engagement looks like?

Mr Goledzinowski : As the minister said, this exchange between ministers has just taken place. We are seized of that now. We are prepared to begin the process of putting together workshops with the Ministry of Finance to talk about any aspects of Myanmar that would help them to inform their decisions in how they relate with the super fund in terms of their investment portfolio.

Senator RICE: Is DFAT going to assist them with a list of companies which you think potentially should be divested from?

Senator Payne: I don't think we should speculate about what DFAT will and won't provide. This is a matter which is at the beginning of engagement between the department and the Future Fund.

Senator RICE: But clearly there's a process that's begun. Is there an intention for DFAT to provide a list of companies, or you will be leaving it up to the Department of Finance or the Future Fund to do their own research?

Senator Payne: It is ultimately a matter for the Department of Finance.

Senator RICE: I understand that, but I want to know what DFAT's engagement in that process is going to be.

Senator Payn e: We'll develop that. Perhaps it will be more productive to discuss is it on the next occasion.

Senator RICE: Minister, you said you'd get back to me about Minister Dutton attending the virtual ASEAN-Australia Defence Ministers' Informal Meeting, which was on 10 November. It was attended by a member of the Myanmar special administrative committee, Lieutenant General Mya Tun Oo, who says that he's now their Minister for Defence. He is sanctioned by the US, the UK, Canada and the EU, and New Zealand has imposed a travel ban on him. I'd like to table three documents: a tweet which included a screenshot taken at the meeting, the Myanmar News Agency report about the meeting and Minister Dutton's own media release about the meeting. Minister, is Minister Dutton's attending this meeting another example of a difference in approach between Minister Dutton and yourself when it comes to issues of diplomacy?

Senator Payne: The approach that the government takes and that agencies take is that, in all meetings where a representative of Myanmar is present, we raise concerns about Myanmar actions. Not all of the meetings are in our control, in terms of those who are invited to attend. They're not all run by us. ASEAN, for example, determines participation in its meetings, and, as you and I have discussed, engaging with ASEAN continues to be a priority for us. In terms of Mr Dutton's own engagement on this meeting, I'll suggest that you refer that to Defence tomorrow. I'm not going to speak for Defence in relation to this.

Senator RICE: I would have expected—

CHAIR: We have now attained six o'clock.

Senator RICE: One final question: I would have expected Minister Dutton's approach to diplomatic relationships to be in line with yours. Did Mr Dutton consult with you before attending this meeting?

Senator Payne: There are countless meetings across the ASEAN system all the time.

Senator RICE: Yes, but I'm specifically asking about this meeting.

Senator Payne: I suggest you refer those matters to Defence tomorrow.

Senator RICE: I'm specifically asking whether Mr Dutton consulted with you.

Senator Payne: I've said—

Senator RICE: Can I get an answer to that question, please, from your perspective, Minister.

Senator Payne: I've responded to that question.

CHAIR: You have already asked the question. We've got an answer on the Hansard, and that—

Senator RICE: I haven't got an answer. I'm wondering whether the minister is making a public interest immunity claim over answering this question.

CHAIR: Senator Rice—

Senator RICE: Did Mr Dutton consult with you before attending the meeting?

CHAIR: Senator Rice, you will come to order! I've been more than agreeable with your requests for time. You've gone well over time, and the committee has now concluded its examination of the department's non-trade programs. I thank the officers for their attendance. The committee will now move to the examination of the department's trade programs. [18:04]

CHAIR: I welcome Minister Seselja and departmental officers with responsibility for the trade program. Minister, do you have an opening statement?

Senator Seselja: No, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: I assume that, in the absence of the secretary, there's no opening statement, so let's move to questions. Senator Rice has the call for the first five minutes, and, Senator, the stopwatch will be put on you this time.

Senator RICE: I think it will be even less than five minutes, Chair.

CHAIR: Good. You'll make up for your sins earlier in the evening.

Se nator RICE: I'm interested to know the status of DFAT's feasibility study on strengthening trade with Israel.

Mr Yeend : There has been a feasibility study done on a possible trade agreement with Israel. It's something that the minister is now considering in relation to next steps.

Senator RICE: Do we have a time line?

Mr Yeend : This is something we're still discussing with the minister, so we don't have a precise time line. But we are looking to move it ahead as quickly as we can.

Senator RICE: So the feasibility study is completed?

Mr Yeend : That is correct.

Senator RICE: So it's basically in discussions with the minister, and there's no time line on when things move ahead.

Mr Yeend : Yes.

Senator RICE: Okay. Given the clear recommendations relating to trade and investment with the state of Israel provided by the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, has DFAT sought any external legal advice concerning issues associated with trade and investment with Israel?

Mr Yeend : No. We haven't sought any external legal advice, but we are in the process of briefing the minister and coming to a position on the next steps with the proposed FTA.

Senator RICE: Thank you. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Kitching?

Senator KITCHING: I was going to go to LNG exports, but could I just ask the department for their views on the Abraham Accords and the normalisation of agreements that Israel has entered into with Bahrain, the UAE and—I've forgotten the third one. There was potentially an agreement to be signed with Yemen, I think.

Mr Yeend : I might ask my colleague Mr Innes-Brown to answer that question.

Mr Innes-Brown : Sure. One of the other countries was Morocco, and I think there have been some tentative agreements with one or two other countries as well. There have been important and welcome developments in the region; I think those steps have been important for regional stability and the general conduct and atmospherics of international relations.

In relation to the UAE, those normalisation arrangements are probably most advanced. Most recently, the President of Israel visited the UAE in quite an historic visit. As I understand it, shortly, the UAE foreign minister is planning to visit Israel, and there has been quite an extensive connectivity—from a small base but growing rapidly—between the two commercial sectors, and there's been strong interest in expanded cooperation in a range of areas. So it's very welcome, and, yes, with varying degrees of follow-up. As I said, as I understand it, the UAE is the most advanced.

Senator KITCHING: I think the Israeli prime minister was this week visiting Bahrain, so I think that's very good as well. And, obviously, they have been a reliable trading partner even before the normalisation of relations agreements.

I might move on to LNG exports. I want to ask questions particularly in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian tensions. Can I ask what advice DFAT provided to the PMO and to ministers' offices prior to a government press release on 26-27 January?

Mr Growder : Senator, I must admit I'm not familiar with the press release you're referring to, so I might need to grab that and come back.

Senator KITCHING: Bear with me. I'll give you a copy. Do you want me just to give these to you? I can table them.

Senator Seselja: It might be helpful if you table them.

Senator KITCHING: One is entitled 'Australian LNG readied to aid Europe over Ukraine crisis'. Sorry, it's not a press release; it was a media conference in Sydney on 27 January. I don't have those documents in front of me, but when did DFAT provide this advice?

Mr Growder : I'll have a look if I can. I think I'd have to take it on notice. I'm not aware of any advice we've provided specifically to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on, but I will have to take that on notice to be sure.

Senator KITCHING: Sure. Did DFAT advise on the model or the impact on Australian relations with our energy buyers in Asia? Did we advise them that we might be providing LNG to Europe?

Mr Growder : Again, I'd have to take it on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Did we liaise with any LNG exporters?

Mr Growder : To the best of my knowledge, no, but again I will take it on notice to be sure.

Senator KITCHING: Prior to that announcement, did DFAT seek advice from our posts in the EU regarding the risk of LNG shortage?

Mr Growder : I will take that also on notice. Sorry.

Senator KITCHING: No, it's all good. Is DFAT aware of any other LNG-exporting nations making similar announcements?

Mr Growder : We have seen discussions in media. The US, for example, is having discussions, I think, with Qatar. That is something we've seen. Also last week, from memory, Japan—while it is obviously not an exporter itself but an importer—had announced that it would look to release some cargos or supply from some of its reserves. But the details of that, I think, are still very much in the preliminary stages. They're some of the ones we've seen in the public domain.

Senator KITCHING: Are you aware of any formal requests to LNG exporters in Australia post this announcement?

Mr Growder : We're not aware of any formal requests, no.

Senator KITCHING: Where there are LNG producers with long-term contracts in Asia, are you aware of those and of what, if there were supply to Europe, that would do to those long-term contracts?

Mr Growder : I think our starting point would be—although obviously these are commercial decisions, not Australian government determined decisions—that our expectation would be that Australian producers would be looking to supply their long-term contracts in Asia in that way. We value those very highly, as do the producers. They are often foundational customers and obviously large investors as well in most of those. As to what decisions there would be and the implications of those, I couldn't really comment on exactly how—

Mr Yeend : Senator, could I just add that the department of industry has responsibility for the LNG issue. We're obviously involved with them and other agencies, but this is partly why we don't have the information at hand at the moment.

Senator KITCHING: Is there a committee formed? Is it as formal as that?

Ms Campbell : I think the minister said this morning that this matter had been discussed at the National Security Committee of cabinet, and therefore the industry department and the portfolio have the lead on this matter—the industry and resources ministers.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. I guess I'm asking for DFAT's point of view. I'm going to move on to the global COVID-19 supply chain. Has DFAT done modelling on the impact of the global COVID-19 supply chain crunch on the Australian economy?

Ms Campbell : This might be with the other officers whom we've just let go.

Senator KITCHIN G: I will go through the questions, if you are able to answer; otherwise, I can put them on notice.

Ms Campbell : That would be great.

Senator KITCHING: What liaison has the government had with regional economic partners to secure supply?

Ms Campbe ll : That is with our colleagues who left.

Senator KITCHING: What liaison has the government had with Five Eyes partners to secure supply?

Ms Campbell : I know we have information on that and we will be able to answer that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Has DFAT been in contact with shipping companies to discuss supply chain issues?

Ms Campbell : I do not think we have been in contact. That has been led by the infrastructure department, but we will take that on notice and give you a full answer.

Senator KITCHING: Is DFAT aware of reports that the supply chain supply crunch will ease before the end of this financial year?

Ms Campbell : Is there any officer at the table who is able to answer that?

Mr Growder : Supply chain sits within the division I come from but I would not say we are aware of particular reports like that.

Senator KITCHING: Have you done your own research or modelling on that?

Mr Growder : Typically modelling of that nature on the macro economy would be Treasury's responsibility, not DFAT's.

Senator KITCHING: But you have a section dealing with it?

Mr Growder : With supply chains, yes.

Senator KITCHING: Have you done any research in your section about when the supply chain crunch would end, or do you rely solely on Treasury for that information?

Mr Growder : I would say it is mix of industry liaison and Treasury, as the two sources—

Senator KITCHING: So you are not doing any modelling yourselves?

Mr Growder : We don't do modelling of that nature, no.

CHAIR: Do you receive modelling of that nature from another department?

Mr Growder : I do not believe we have. I will take that on notice but I don't think we have seen anything that you would call modelling on supply chain issues.

Senator KITCHING: But you are doing work on supply chain issues?

Mr Growder : We are.

Senator KITCHING: Do you have any views or have you given information to government around when you think this supply chain crunch will end?

Mr Growder : I will take that on notice but I do not think we have been giving advice on the length of time we would be looking at.

Senator KITCHING: What steps has the government taken to ease pressure on businesses from increased freight rates?

Mr Growder : As the secretary said, that is a question for the department of infrastructure more than us. They have the lead on shipping and transport and those sorts of issues.

Senator KITCHING: I will pass to my colleague, who is going to ask about free trade agreements.

Senator AYRES: I have a few questions about the UK free trade agreement.

CHAIR: If you are asking on that, I might have a few questions.

Senator AYRES: Can you please confirm the report that I have read which says labour market testing has been waived for all workers from the UK in that agreement? Is that right?

Ms Bowes : The commitments we have entered into under the UK FTA concern the temporary movement of natural persons. That refers specifically to skilled professionals, business visitors, intracorporate transferees, installers and services as well as contractual service suppliers. We already have commitments in the WTO with respect to many of those categories that do waive labour market testing. In addition to those WTO commitments, we have agreed with the UK on a reciprocal basis to waive labour market testing for contractual service suppliers.

Senator AYRES: That is the category people are concerned about. Has the department modelled the impact of this on Australia's labour market or rates of unemployment?

Ms Bowes : No, we have not but what we do have is historic evidence from other FTAs where labour market testing has been waived on that category of temporary migrants. In fact, our evidence from those other FTAs has shown that there has been a decline in the use of that particular mode or visa that supplies that mode of movement in relation to the FTAs. So, in fact, if anything, there is no impact from the waiving of market testing, at least discernible from our historic experience of other FTAs where we have waived labour market testing for that category.

Senator AYRES: If that is the case, why is the concession being sought and given?

Ms Bowes : It was a specific ask of the UK. It is in fact an ask of many of our FTA partners. It is something that is valued by our FTAs partners, which is one reason why we certainly consider it on a case-by-case basis. It is part of the overall balance of the deal. It was in that context, noting this is an extremely high standard comprehensive agreement, that we agreed with the UK to waive labour market testing on a reciprocal basis for that particular category.

Senator AYRES: So you have not done specific modelling but you maintain it has no impact on our labour market?

Ms Bowes : We have not done specific modelling on the labour market flows. As I said, we have the experience we have noticed from other FTAs.

Senator AYRES: Has the department modelled the number of additional temporary migrant workers expected to enter Australia over the course of the next period as a result of the agreement, over the next five years, say?

Ms Bowe s : No, we have not done that specific modelling. We have consulted with Home Affairs, of course, on the visa categories, which remain constant for the temporary entry of migrants. By migrants, I mean those categories I referred to—skilled professional business people. But I would note that it is very much demand driven; it is a demand-responsive process. In particular, it supports our exports of services as well as supports inwards and outwards investment. The mobility outcomes in the FTA were an element of the FTA that was perhaps the most focused upon by all stakeholders with whom we spoke in negotiating the agreement and that is in both directions. So increased movement of people between Australia and the United Kingdom on a temporary basis to live and work on a temporary basis was the No. 1 request of nearly every stakeholder with whom we engaged.

Senator AYRES: So contractor services—backpackers?

Ms Bowes : There is a separate commitment alongside the FTA. Backpackers—working holiday makers—normally would not fall within the category of temporary entrants, but we have agreed in a side letter with the United Kingdom that we will, on a reciprocal basis, increase the age limit to 35 years of age in both countries and extend the availability of that visa to three years. That is a considerable outcome, in particular for Australians wanting to go to the United Kingdom, where the length of period was previously two years. So within two years, we will finalise that arrangement, increasing the age limit to 35 and extending the time limit for three years.

Senator AYRES: And there is no modelling about the impact of that measure, that side letter on the labour market?

Ms Bowes : There is no specific modelling but certainly it is used by working holiday makers from the United Kingdom and Australians in the United Kingdom , with a significant proportion in both directions.

Senator AYRES: Would you agree that the agreement is politically contentious in the United Kingdom?

Ms Bowes : There are aspects of the agreement that have caused some concern or raised some questions in some very specific sectors in the United Kingdom. I would say, on the whole, it has been very widely welcomed throughout the United Kingdom population, in particular from many of the stakeholders with whom we have spoken. But there has been some concern raised by the agriculture sector because, as I have said, this is a very comprehensive, highly liberalising free trade agreement in both directions.

Senator AYRES: Has the department provided the minister with advice about the dissent, particularly from the agriculture sector?

Ms Bowes : I beg your pardon?

Senator AYRES: Has the department provided the minister with advice about that dissent, particularly from the agriculture sector?

Ms Bowes : Certainly we are in contact with the trade minister's office, and the trade minister is certainly aware of those concerns. When I was in the United Kingdom with the minister in April last year, as part of the negotiations, I met with the head of the National Farmers Union and her aide to discuss the negotiations in particular. It was very clear that while there were some concerns about Australia, they were, in fact, not Australia specific and they were more about the precedent that this agreement would set.

Senator AYRES: So it's feedback from local industry and local stakeholders?

Ms Bowes : As well as from British stakeholders.

Senator AY RES: Yes, but in Australia, what has been the feedback from local industry?

Ms Bowes : It has been incredibly positive. We've conducted more than 140 consultations, 250 separate meetings. Since signature in December I have had a number of meetings with stakeholders from different sectors. It has been almost uniformly positive, particularly the mobility outcomes. The agriculture sector, of course, which really does stand to gain under this agreement, is incredibly happy, pleased with the outcomes, but so are investors, so are companies that are looking to increase investment, or indeed attract UK investment, into Australia, because the outcomes do facilitate increased investment in both directions.

Senator AYRES: So unanimous applause.

Ms Bowes : Widespread.

Senator AYRES: Just back to the side letter on working holiday visas, so that can be altered or cancelled without any consequence for the broader agreement? Is that essentially right?

Ms Bowes : It is separate from the agreement. It is not legally binding, but it is part of the overall FTA package.

Senator AYRES: Sorry to interrupt, but there are other side letters dealing with other matters, are there?

Ms Bowes : Yes, that's right. They don't typically fall within the four corners of an FTA, but are considered part of the broader package.

Senator AYRES: One area where there is some concern is within our wine industry. They say that implementation of the proposed UK duty regime would disadvantage countries in which wine grapes naturally ripen at relatively high sugar levels. Has the minister had representations from his counterpart in the UK regarding the impact of proposed alcohol tax changes in the UK?

Ms Bowes : That issue has just been the subject of a public consultation. We are aware of the UK proposal to address its excise regime for alcohol—and I note it's excise not customs tariffs. There have been concerns raised not only by our own wine industry, but wine producers in different countries. The minister has written to his counterpart, in fact to the UK chancellor, who has policy responsibility for this proposal, to note our concerns or the concerns of the industry with the proposal. I understand Wine Australia has also put in a submission to the public consultation process.

CHAIR: Can I come in on this?

Senator AYRES: Yes, sure, Chair.

CHAIR: That was the area I was going to ask about, in relation to the UK free trade agreement. It's a good agreement, with noted concern. Is that all, or have we used language that is a bit stronger?

Ms Bowes : In relation to a particular area?

CHAIR: Yes, what you were just talking about—the alcohol tax changes.

Ms Bowes : We have noted that there have been concerns in particular that Australian wine, because of the climatic conditions, would be disproportionately impacted by the effect of this proposed tax.

Senator ABETZ: You indicated that we have expressed concern. I am hoping that we may have expressed considerable displeasure rather than just concern—whatever the jargon of the diplomatic world is—to let it be known that we are not amused, to use the English expression.

Ms Bowes : I do not think we are amused, but we did highlight the intention to put forward a submission in the public consultation process, and Wine Australia has done so.

CHAIR: Good.

Mr Yeend : Also Minister Tehan himself is very much involved in this issue. As Ms Bowes said, he wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and he has been staying very much closely involved with Wine Australia because we do see this as an issue that is not a good development but is a separate issue from the outcome on the FTA itself.

CHAIR: Thanks.

Senator AYRES: Why wasn't the department aware that this had been proposed when the department was negotiating the agreement?

Ms Bowes : Taxes don't normally fall within the discussions on FTA. They are not part of the FTA negotiations.

Senator AYRES: But it potentially just wipes out the benefit for that sector.

Ms Bowes : Senator, I disagree. The outcome that we have negotiated under the UK FTA is for the elimination of all customs duties on wine exports to the United Kingdom on entry into force. That does benefit the industry. It will save some $43 million worth of duty, and it ensures that in fact Australian wine will have preferential access to the United Kingdom alongside the European Union—preferential access that isn't enjoyed by some other major wine producing counties. There is a difference between the duties at the border and the excise.

Senator AYRES: But if the characteristics of our wine mean they are going to be charged a higher duty or excise, doesn't that put our wine exporters at a disadvantage?

Ms B owes : The United Kingdom has set out in its consultation paper that this is a non-discriminatory tax that applies to wine regardless of origin. It's calculated on alcohol by volume. There has been an argument put forward by our industry that, because of climatic conditions, we could be disproportionately affected by that tax compared with cool climate wines, for example. The minister, Minister Tehan, has raised that concern with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Senator AYRES: Has the department modelled the impact of the duty regime, the alcohol tax regime, on Australian wines?

Ms Bowes : What we have done is look at our average exports of wine—this is the basis upon which we calculate all of our tariff negotiations—in the period 2017 to 2019 to determine, on entry into force, when the customs duty is abolished, there will be a saving of around $43 million. That is what we can say, based on historic data. I should add that DFAT is not the lead agency on this particular issue, but we are working closely with Wine Australia and the department of agriculture. To my knowledge, there have been some calculations by industry about the projected impact, yes, but we have not done that.

Senator AYRES: Was the department specifically aware that the UK government was intending to review its alcohol duty regime at the time of negotiating the agreement?

Ms Bowes : We were aware of this issue some months—one month, two months—before the conclusion, or the signature, of the FTA.

Senator AYRES: Potentially, if the industry's right, the UK has given with one hand and taken with the other. I heard you say the industry's estimate is a $43 million advantage. They say 82 million pounds additional cost. The situation for that industry is worse than when you started, isn't it?

Ms Bowes : As I said, we've negotiated preferential duty-free access for the wine industry, for Australian wine, to the United Kingdom. That is an outcome that is not affected. It is separate from the behind-the-border tax, which is not the subject of FTA negotiations and which is non-discriminatory and applies to all wine regardless of origin.

Senator AYRES: Has the minister sought advice from the department about waiving the requirement for 20 joint sitting days before JSCOT can review a major international treaty? Has there been a discussion about waiving the 20-day requirement?

Ms Bowes : We are obviously very aware of the wish to have this agreement go through JSCOT processes as would be the normal practice. But, given the timeframe—this was tabled last week—we are aware that the 20-joint-sitting-day requirement will not be met within the life of this parliament.

Senator AYRES: Is there an intention to seek to waive it, or is it going to have to be dealt with in the course of the next parliament?

Ms Bowes : We have looked at options, but that includes the JSCOT requirements, and we're very cognisant of the JSCOT requirements, including the 20-joint-sitting-day requirement. Looking at the sitting calendar, we're aware that that cannot be met within the life of this parliament.

Senator AYRES: So a waiver won't be sought?

Ms Bowes : I am not involved in those conversations.

Senator AYRES: Has advice been provided to the minister about waiving the 20-day requirement?

Ms Bowes : We have had a conversation about that issue but no formal advice.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me—

Mr Yeend : I think it's something that is still under discussion. The minister is still reflecting on how he wants to advance on this issue. We don't have any more advice for you than that at the moment.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me how many times that requirement has been waived since Minister Downer—who got a mention earlier this morning—implemented the convention, I think, in 1996?

Ms Campbell : We'd probably need to take that on notice. I don't think anyone has got that statistic to hand.

Senator AYRES: Given what we've discussed in terms of the wine industry, it would an odd thing to do to try and rush it through the parliament. The department doesn't have a view about whether it warrants an exemption?

Ms Campbell : I don't think that's what we said. I think the officers at the table said that the matter was still under consideration and they were discussing it with the trade minister. I think this goes to the advice we would give to the trade minister, and it's under discussion with the trade minister.

Senator AYRES: What's the UK's own ratification protocol?

Ms Bowes : That is a fairly new process that the UK has implemented specifically for trade agreements. Immediately after signature, the Secretary of State for International Trade wrote to a newly established body, the Trade and Agriculture Commission, to examine the impacts of the agreement on, in particular, the agriculture industry—to examine the agriculture outcomes. That commission has three months to report back. That report will then be considered by the Department for International Trade, which will do its own assessment. The DIT's assessment and the Trade and Agriculture Commission's assessment will then be tabled together with the agreement itself before the UK parliament, and the requirement there is that the agreement be laid before parliament for 20 sitting days. However, I am aware that concurrently, and also as we speak, there are three parliamentary committees conducting inquiries into the agreement. There is the House of Lords International Trade Agreements Committee, there is its counterpart in the House of Commons and there is also the food and rural affairs committee. And a number of other committees have also examined the agreement but without raising specific inquiries—more as part of their normal functioning. So there are a number of parliamentary committee inquiries already on foot in the United Kingdom parliamentary system.

Senator AYRES: I think the UK secretary of state for international trade said they anticipate there will now be a period of several months before the agreement is formally laid before the parliament.

Ms Bowes : That's right. My understanding is that the UK secretary of state for international trade will not be laying the agreement before parliament at least until the Trade and Agriculture Commission has finished its work at the end of March. But we also understand that there needs to be a period of internal examination before the agreement is laid before parliament. So, from 31 March, the time frame is a little unclear.

Senator AYRES: End to end, that could easily be six months. I assume the treaty will only enter into force when both parties have ratified it.

Ms Bowes : That's right. For example, both parties have to go through their domestic treaty-making process and notify the other party that those treaty-making processes have been completed. It's only when both parties have made that notification that the treaty will enter into force 30 days after the notification is made or at another date agreed between the parties.

Senator AYRES: What's the argument for rushing it through, then? I appreciate what the secretary has said—that there has been some discussion backwards and forwards—but what's the purpose of—

Mr Yeend : Notwithstanding the need for the due process—and this is something the minister is considering—the outcomes in this FTA are the most ambitious outcomes we have had apart from the CER agreement. So there is a lot of interest from various industry groups. The outcomes in agriculture, as we alluded to before, are very good. The relevant industries that have been involved in this negotiation have an interest in it coming into force as quickly as possible. So this is something else just to mention—that there is that kind of pressure as well. And this is all being weighed up by the minister in deciding how to move forward.

Senator AYRES: You assert that, and I notice that the chair is nodding vigorously. But the wine industry is saying, 'Hang on a second, there are questions about the labour market impact.' There is a reason why we have processes in the parliament to deal with these agreements carefully.

CHAIR: In relation to the labour market, it is reciprocal. Whilst UK citizens can work in Australia, Australians, similarly, can go over to the UK and work.

Ms Bowes : On a temporary basis, under the agreement. That is correct.

CHAIR: Yes. It is completely reciprocal.

Ms Bowes : We have accorded the UK best FTA treatment. The UK has gone beyond its reasonable practice, and what Australia has been accorded is access equivalent to that accorded to EU nationals in the United Kingdom.

Senator AYRES: Yes. That doesn't obviate, though, the concerns about the impact—I appreciate the chair's point. Some people travel for work overseas and, in many cases, it is a very good experience for young Australians to do that. But there are questions about what happens in country towns and job opportunities for people in country towns, and those issues need to be weighed up carefully by the parliament. We've got a six-month process, give or take a few months. I can't see what possible argument there could be for rushing it through. But I won't ask you to express an opinion.

CHAIR: Country towns are very labour poor at the moment.

Senator AYRES: I have some questions about the TRIPS waiver.

CHAIR: Another five minutes.

Senator AYRES: Yes, thank you; that'd be good. I saw that on the TRIPS waiver set of issues the WTO Director-General said

We should strive to get this result out by the end of February.

Does the department expect a resolution on this issue by the end of February?

Mr Yeend : Senator, we are working very closely with other key countries involved in this discussion. At the moment, there are four countries in particular who were trying to come to an agreement. India, South Africa, the EU and the US are working very closely with the director-general. We are staying in very close touch with all of those players and the director-general. The minister speaks with the director-general regularly on this issue and on the broader set of issues about developments of the WTO following the postponement of the ministerial in December. This is a key issue that Australia is looking to play a very positive role in finding the kind of compromise that will be necessary for all sides.

The minister also, you may be aware, was in India just recently. India is a key player on this issue, and the minister was engaging with Minister Goyal with a view to encouraging all sides of this discussion to look for the necessary compromise to find an outcome that all of these key players will be able to live with and will fulfil the objectives of the TRIPS waiver. Of course, Australia is supportive of the TRIPS waiver.

Senator AYRES: I think there was some ambiguity about Australia's position last year. Do you say that it's not possible within the current provisions of the agreement to achieve what's adequate in the context of COVID-19? So, Australia is seeking—

Mr Yeend : I might ask Mr Baxter to go into a little more detail for you, Senator.

Mr Baxter : What I would say is there have been a lot of discussions in the WTO about the role that intellectual property rules are playing in vaccine distribution and for access in particular but, more recently, not just vaccines; therapeutics and diagnostics more broadly. There are a number of developing country WTO members who are making the point that a waiver of intellectual property rights is needed to support their efforts to ensure that necessary vaccines or other materials are able to be distributed widely.

CHAIR: One last question.

Senator AYRES: I should choose it carefully then, Chair!

CHAIR: You'd better choose it carefully, but don't take too long.

Senator AYRES: There's an opportunity cost there, isn't there?

CHAIR: There is.

Senator AYRES: What additionally is going to happen? It sounds like the prospects of this issue being resolved by the end of the month are not as strong as the WTO Director-General might hope. What will the government be doing additionally over the coming weeks and months on this issue? Has it been raised in the context of the UK FTA or any of these other discussions that we're having around the place? What is the best way to bring this issue to a conclusion in the department's view?

Mr Yeend : As I indicated, we do believe that, with this ongoing discussion with those four countries, they must come to an accommodation in the first instance. But we do believe that Australia can be an honest broker, given the position that we have, and this is why both in Geneva we are extremely active in discussions with other key players, particularly the four members that I mentioned. As I've already indicated, too, Minister Tehan takes the opportunity to raise the need to find a way forward on this issue as part of what is needed to unblock a whole set of issues at the WTO at the moment. In all his engagement with ministers—I mentioned Minister Goyal, but he has regular contact with other ministers; he participated in an informal ministerial meeting at the end of January where this was the key issue under discussion in terms of finding a pathway forward. I think we are already doing those kinds of actions and I think that we will continue to do them intensively given the importance of this issue, both on the substance but also in terms of our view that this is a critical issue that must be resolved to allow us to advance a number of other issues in the WTO at present.

Senator AYRES: There are a series of other questions, about a range of other matters, but we will put them on notice for you.

CHAIR: Senator Van, you have the call.

Senator VAN: I've got some questions on trade law. There has been widespread publicity or media coverage about the coercive trade tactics that China has been using against Lithuania recently. I'm aware that the EU has brought, or is seeking to bring, an action to the WTO and that Australia is seeking to join that action. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?

Ms Campbell : Mr Kenna is the expert on this.

Mr Kenna : You're quite right, Senator. In late January the EU requested consultations with China regarding its allegedly disruptive and restrictive trade practices directed at Lithuania. We very quickly came out with a decision to seek to join those consultations. That is open to members with a substantial interest in the matter. Clearly, China being our biggest trading partner means that we have significant interest in how this plays out. So we have requested to join those consultations. Under the WTO rules, China may, for example, reject third-party requests to join consultations, so we will see the response. We anticipate those consultations taking place in about a month or so.

Senator VAN: If they reject us, what are our options then?

Mr Kenna : If and when this dispute gets to the panel stage, we can also request to be a third party to the dispute, and at that point there is no objection to that, so parties can join if and when the dispute reaches the panel stage.

Senator VAN: Thank you for stepping that out for us. Staying on trade law but in a different area: with the RCEP coming into force on 1 January this year, I believe it was, does the RCEP provide Australia with any remedies against the coercive trade tactics being used by China against us?

Mr Kenna : I might turn to my RCEP colleague to answer.

Senator VAN: It's a question I haven't been able to find the answer to, even on my reading of the RCEP.

Ms Bowes : RCEP, which entered into force on 1 January 2022, is now the world's biggest FTA and as such represents a strong representation of the commitment to rules based trade, particularly in our region. In particular, there is a dispute settlement process that applies where the commitments under the agreement are breached.

Senator VA N: By extension, do those provisions provide Australia with any course of action against tariffs, whether it be barley tariffs or wine tariffs, that have been imposed?

Ms Bowes : Under most FTAs there is a dispute settlement mechanism, and my colleague Mr Kenna might want to pop back. There are dispute settlement mechanisms under most FTAs, but in many cases where there is a breach—and you mentioned the issue of trade remedies, for example, on barley, and wine—consideration is given to what would be the most appropriate forum in which to bring a complaint in relation to that particular breach. In many cases it includes opting for the WTO rather than an FTA dispute settlement mechanism. In the case of trade remedies, for example, there is a well-established set of jurisprudence on trade remedies disputes in the WTO, and it is a well-established set of rules as well. So it provides a foundation for those particular complaints.

Senator VAN: But do you have to choose one or the other, or could we pursue both?

Ms Bowes : In many cases most FTAs would have that choice of forum if you commence an action, but not exclusively.

Senator VAN: I am talking specifically about RCEP in this case.

Ms Bowes : I would have to take that on notice. I don't have those details in front of me.

Senator VAN: If you could consider it carefully and look at what options are available under that.

Ms Bowes : I would note that those disputes arose before RCEP entered into force on 1 January 2022, so generally we would only be looking, in any case, at anything that arises from 1 January.

Senator VAN: Fair point. I hope there aren't any new ones, but I'm not that hopeful. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: It wouldn't be an examination of the Trade portfolio if I didn't ask about manuka honey.

Senator Seselja: We've been waiting for it!

CHAIR: That will take us out in the next two minutes. Can I put on the record my welcoming of the federal government's assistance to the manuka honey sector to help fight the kidnapping attempts by New Zealand of the name 'manuka honey'. It's very timely, because I understand the New Zealand manuka honey producers, who failed in their own country, are now appealing that decision. This has been a very uneven fight given that New Zealand manuka honey producers have been given a lot of financial assistance by their government. Ms Duff, you have undoubtedly come to the table to tell me you will continue to have a very good watching brief on the issues as they emerge in New Zealand and will hopefully encourage the Attorney-General's Department to make more moneys available should that become necessary.

Ms Duff : I think you have just answered the questions for me, Senator, in what you provided around the most crucial update—that is, the government is contributing grant funding through the Attorney-General's Department towards the Australian Manuka Honey Association's reasonable legal costs for proceedings relating to the trademark dispute. So that is a development since we last spoke about these matters. In the meantime, we continue to press New Zealand around these issues and at ministerial level. Indeed, the trade minister, Minister Tehan, raised these issues with his New Zealand counterpart, Minister O'Connor, during an in-person meeting in Melbourne in November, pressing the points around wanting to work together collectively and in some workshops and other manners that can try and deal with these issues a little bit more cooperatively. So that discussion is ongoing.

We are, as you mentioned, Senator, continuing to closely monitor the ongoing certification trademark hearings and procedures that are occurring. I mentioned last time that we were able to get an observer into the Australian Manuka Honey Association's opposition hearing to the New Zealand case in October, and we continue to watch that very closely. As you point out, none of the ongoing certification trademark cases have succeeded at this stage. There are some still under objection procedures or that have been rejected or are being assessed. In December last year, the UK Intellectual Property Office rejected the trademark bid in the UK.

CHAIR: The secretariat can pass that to Attorney-General's if need be. But the moneys being made available are for new cases, as I understand it. If that is the case, are appeals considered new cases?

Ms Duff : I would need to take that on notice and refer it to the Attorney-General's Department as manager of that particular process, but I am very happy to do so.

CHAIR: The release tells us the federal government will lend financial support to future legal proceedings, so I hope that future legal proceedings include appeals.

Ms Campbell : We will pass it on to the Attorney-General's Department, and I will mention it to the secretaries—

CHAIR: Thank you very much. That concludes the committee's examination of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I thank the secretary and officers for their attendance. After the dinner break, the committee will move to its examination of the Department of the Veterans' Affairs.

Proceedings suspended from 19:01 to 20:14