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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
23/10/2017
Estimates
IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION PORTFOLIO

IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION PORTFOLIO

In Attendance

Senator Cash, Minister for Employment, Minister for Women and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service

Senator Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources

Senator Ryan, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet and Special Minister of State

Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Mr Michael Pezzullo, Secretary, Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Mr Michael Outram APM, Acting Commissioner, Australian Border Force

Ms Malisa Golightly PSM, Deputy Secretary, Visa and Citizenship Services

Ms Jenet Connell, Deputy Secretary, Corporate, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Clive Murray, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Operations

Ms Mandy Newton APM, Deputy Commissioner, Support

Ms Maria Fernandez PSM, Deputy Secretary, Intelligence and Capability

Ms Linda Geddes, Acting Deputy Secretary, Policy

Air Vice-Marshal Stephen Osborne CSC, Commander, Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force

Ms Shannon Frazer, First Assistant Secretary, Executive Division

Mr David Wilden, First Assistant Secretary, Immigration and Citizenship Policy Division

Mr Jason Russo, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Strategic Policy and Planning Division

Mr Andrew Chandler, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Traveller, Customs and Industry Policy Division

Mr Lachlan Colquhoun, First Assistant Secretary, International Division

Mr Ben Wright, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services Division

Mr Murali Venugopal, First Assistant Secretary, People Division

Mr Steven Groves, First Assistant Secretary, Chief Finance Officer, Finance Division

Ms Philippa De Veau, First Assistant Secretary, Legal Division

Ms Cheryl-anne Moy, First Assistant Secretary, Chief Audit Executive, Integrity, Security and Assurance Division

Mr Anthony Warnock, Acting First Assistant Secretary, ICT Division, Chief Information Officer

Mr Cameron Ashe, First Assistant Secretary, Intelligence Division

Mr Michael Milford AM, First Assistant Secretary, Major Capability Division

Mr Michael Minns, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Identity and Biometrics Division

Ms Christine Dacey, First Assistant Secretary, Visa and Citizenship Management Division

Mr Luke Mansfield, First Assistant Secretary, Refugee and Humanitarian Visa Management Division

Ms Kaylene Zakharoff, First Assistant Secretary, Community Protection Division

Mr Andrew Kefford PSM, First Assistant Secretary, Digital Transformation and Channels Division

Mr Jim Williams, Assistant Commissioner, Border Management Division

Ms Rachel Houghton, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Border Force Capability Division

Mr David Nockels, First Assistant Secretary, Detention Services Division

Ms Elizabeth Hampton, First Assistant Secretary, Children, Community and Settlement Services Division, and First Assistant Secretary, Health Services and Policy Division

Air Commodore Andrew (Jake) Campbell, Acting Commander, Maritime Border Command

Mr Terry Price PSM, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Strategic Border Command

Mr Kingsley Woodford-Smith, Assistant Commissioner, Detention and Offshore Operations Command

Mr Wayne Buchhorn, Assistant Commissioner, Enforcement Command

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Senator Ian Macdonald ): I declare open the supplementary budget estimates hearing for the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee dealing with the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio. I welcome Senator Cash representing the minister; Mr Pezzullo, Secretary; and Mr Outram, Acting Commissioner of the Australian Border Force. The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of the proposed expenditure for the portfolio and other related documents. The proceedings will begin with the examination of Immigration and Border Protection and we will do Attorney-General tomorrow. The committee has set Friday, 8 December as the date by which the answers to questions on notice are to be returned. The committee has also decided that written questions on notice should be provided to the secretariat by 5 pm Friday, 3 November this year.

The committee is required to take all evidence in public and this includes answers to questions on notice. Witnesses know, I think, that in giving evidence they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to the committee. I think most of the officers here today are familiar with the rules, but if you do need assistance on the rules of the committee the secretariat is always happy to help. All questions going to financial positions of department and agencies which are seeking funds in the estimates are relevant questions for the purpose of estimates. There are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has otherwise expressly provided.

The Senate has resolved that an officer of the department shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and should be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked to superior officers or to the minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanation of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

I think everyone is aware of public interest immunity claims. A statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document.

   The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

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

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

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

(1) If:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

( 13 May 2009 J.1941 )

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)