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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
03/06/2021
Estimates
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

[09:02]

CHAIR: I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, and Ms Frances Adamson, Secretary, and officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I note that this will be Ms Adamson's last estimates appearance before she steps down—in fact, steps up—to become the Governor of South Australia in October. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge her distinguished career as a diplomat and her dedication in leading the department since 2016, during a time of enormous challenge. On behalf of the committee, I thank you, Ms Adamson, for your service and for the assistance you've provided to the committee. I think the committee might make some further comments around 4.50 tomorrow afternoon.

Senator WONG: Oh, okay. I thought we were going to do it now.

CHAIR: But, Senator Wong, if you would like to echo my comments now, please do so.

Senator WONG: If I may, on behalf of the opposition and also personally, I will also express our thanks to Secretary Adamson for her service to governments of both persuasions, in many roles. She is the first woman to have served as secretary and the first woman to represent Australia as Ambassador to China, amongst other distinctions. I want to place on record, at the commencement of these estimates, my appreciation, our appreciation, for Secretary Adamson's respect for the institutions of, and the conventions which underpin, our democracy. I think that has been evident not only in her service but here, and it has been even more important in a time when this is not universally displayed. I think Secretary Adamson has recognised estimates not just as combative but also as an opportunity to inform. In particular, I think her interventions on, or her articulation of, the challenges the country faces on China, in this forum, have been more considered and more astute than probably any that we've seen in the public discussion. I have many regrets about us not winning the last election—I'm sure people would agree—but one of them, on a personal level, is that I never had the opportunity to serve with her.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Wong. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Payne: Thank you, Chair, I will. It seems like a lot longer, but it's been only two months since we last had an estimates committee meeting! But it has obviously been a very busy one and continues to be a very difficult one internationally, due to COVID-19 and, in Australia, as we speak, due to COVID-19, and I acknowledge my Victorian colleagues who are up here today as part of the committee.

I really want to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the work that they continue to do and their dedication, led so ably by Secretary Adamson. What our approach has been and continues to be is to build upon our role, as a nation, as an active, responsible and constructive contributor to international affairs, with a focus on serving the Australian people, by helping to foster a region and a globe that is secure and prosperous and rules based.

Clearly the world and the region, continuing to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, are also being shaped by longer-term challenges, such as strategic competition and the impact of technological change. Our recent focus has been a strong engagement with our neighbours in partnering on their vaccine programs, so far providing over 200,000 doses, manufactured in Australia, to Pacific nations and to Timor-Leste, and working with organisations—particularly UNICEF—to procure and distribute vaccines, including in South-East Asia. That's in addition to our funding of the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, and the Prime Minister has committed, overnight, an extra $50 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment, bringing our contribution so far to $130 million.

We're also, of course, supporting in COVID-19 challenges, including our immediate responses to outbreaks in countries including India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea, and that's included, in recent weeks, the supply of equipment such as oxygen concentrators and ventilators, COVID testing kits and PPE, as well as our training for frontline workers and assistance to improve contact tracing. I want to thank those posts and the ADF, who have often helped with the distribution of those key pieces of equipment.

I have been able to visit New Zealand, albeit in the bubble, in recent months, and then, more recently, the United Kingdom, for the G7+ foreign and development ministers meetings and to go to Geneva and to Washington DC for our first meetings in person with the Biden administration and to discuss with key allies and partners the deepening of that cooperation at this very important time. I've also visited Kabul, to speak with Afghanistan's leaders on how we can continue to support their country beyond the international troop withdrawal in the coming months.

We're taking every opportunity to champion open economies and trade and to champion liberal democratic values and the obligations of countries to uphold human rights and respect for the sovereignty of other countries. We've particularly welcomed the comprehensive report from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, led by former New Zealand Prime Minister the Rt Hon. Helen Clark and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I met with Ms Clark in Auckland on my visit to New Zealand, and we are positively disposed to seeing a constructive further investigation into the origins of and response to the COVID-19 pandemic in those phase 2 inquiries.

I wanted to acknowledge again the successes that we have had—and I say this with a real recognition of the quality of the candidates that have been involved in this process—in our multilateral engagement and the benefit that it brings to Australia's national interest in advancing good candidates. Our diplomatic network played a successful—a very successful—role in the election of Mathias Cormann as Secretary-General of the OECD. He took up that role on 1 June—the first individual from our region to lead this very, very important organisation at a time of greater importance than any that I could certainly assess in my lifetime. I also am very pleased to say, reflecting Australia's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, very respected Australian scientist and DFAT officer Dr Robert Floyd has been elected to head the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, on a voting process that has spanned—in COVID terms, it feels like 10 years—at least a year. We launched our International Cyber and Critical Technology Engagement Strategy, which is a platform through which we'll be able to advocate for standards, norms and regulations to apply to these new frontiers. Laws that apply offline must apply online as well.

So we know that that multilateral system has to continue to evolve. We're working with partners to push for reform of the WTO, and both Minister Tehan and I have met in Geneva with Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the new executive director of the World Trade Organization, to focus on its upholding of rules based trading.

I'm sure we will discuss this today, but we also continue to prioritise support for Australians overseas who have been affected by the pandemic, particularly those who want to return. The pandemic continues to present us with enormous challenges in many corners of the world, and that does affect our consular support as well.

Can I come back to Secretary Adamson, Chair. Frances has led the department during a period of extraordinary change and extraordinary challenge, ranging from strategic competition to the consular challenges of COVID-19 to the complete overhaul of our development program to meet the immediate needs of our partners and our neighbours during the pandemic. Over her career, which started in 1985 in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, she has been an exceptional diplomat and public servant. Personally I would like to thank Frances for her decency and her integrity in supporting governments to implement their policies and in supporting me and my predecessors to do the work that we do. I know that she has championed internal reform of the department, including a very highly successful women in leadership program and strengthened the focus on diversity. She has supported her staff through a period of heightened tempo and strain, particularly for those posted overseas, and her support for those staff has enabled them to continue to provide assistance to Australians abroad, and we thank her for that.

During a career that started in this department in 1985, I can only imagine what one therefore asks of one's family, so I also want to acknowledge Frances's family in these observations. We ask a great deal of our families in these roles, all of us senators sitting in these rooms, but our senior officials also give a great deal and so do their families.

I want to congratulate the secretary on her appointment as the next Governor of South Australia and tell her that we look forward to enjoying the hospitality of South Australia with her in that new role, and we thank her deeply and sincerely on behalf of the government and on behalf of the people of Australia.

CHAIR: Well said, Minister, and I'm sure those sentiments are shared by all committee members. Secretary, after all that, do you have an opening statement? It will be your last time!

Ms Adamson : It will, Chair, and thank you for your indulgence in permitting me to deliver one. I want to thank you, obviously, and also Senator Wong and the minister for your very generous remarks, which mean a lot to me. Some members of my family may well be watching; for some reason, they find this compelling viewing, as do a number of Australians! But can I also say that what you've just said about me will mean a lot to my colleagues. They do put an enormous amount into their service, and it's been my pleasure to lead them.

This is my 15th and final estimates appearance as secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and, since our last hearing 10 weeks ago, Australia has faced an international environment that continues to present new challenges and complexity. The department has continued to deliver effectively, in my assessment, for government during this time. We have responded quickly and comprehensively to increasing COVID-19 cases in PNG, Timor-Leste, Fiji and other countries in our region, rolling out vaccines and other vital health support. We've supported Australians overseas in our largest consular operation in history, with a further 21 facilitated flights and a focus on helping Australians return from India. In the last three weeks alone, we've facilitated eight flights from India. And we've continued to drive an ambitious trade diversification agenda, with strong progress on negotiating an FTA with the UK and continuing work on an EU FTA.

Our global operations continue to be affected by a COVID-19 pandemic that has markedly worsened since March, as well as by violence and insecurity in Myanmar, the Middle East and Afghanistan. In the face of significantly deteriorating security in Kabul, the government has made the difficult decision to close our embassy and return to non-resident accreditation as an interim measure.

In the 2020-21 budget, the 2020-21 MYEFO and the 2021-22 budget, the government has provided more than $2 billion in new funding to DFAT. Almost half of this is temporary additional overseas development assistance funding that will allow us to provide targeted and timely assistance to our region as it recovers from COVID-19. The additional investment in DFAT will allow us to do our business better and deliver for Australians, including by: helping business diversify trade and compete fairly in global markets; expanding our advocacy and cooperation with partners for an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific; sustaining the government's diplomatic network, a vital national asset; and enhancing our consular capabilities so we can better support Australians overseas.

My colleagues and I very genuinely look forward to answering your questions about how DFAT will use these resources to lead the government's international agenda and contribute to Australia's economic recovery. I would also like to acknowledge the close engagement between DFAT and parliament beyond our appearances at estimates, in particular the role senators and members play as a voice for multicultural Australia. In the past 12 months, DFAT has participated in 44 hearings and briefings, covering a vast array of issues in country situations, including Myanmar, Ethiopia, China and India, to name a few. I know many of you also actively engage with our heads of mission during their pre-posting briefings and mid-term consultations.

Chair, we have a busy agenda over the next two days. This is not the forum to reflect on my five years as secretary, but I want to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues in DFAT for the support they have provided to me over my term, despite the challenges and none more so than those we face together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their commitment to service, delivery and accountability at home and overseas has been constant and undiminished. I know that it will remain so. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Secretary. Senator Wong, you have the call.

Senator WONG: I'm not sure the tone—

Ms Adamson : I understand we will have a change in tone now!

CHAIR: This will have to be a nice estimates!

Senator WONG: That depends on you—and them! In terms of some logistics, I wanted to flag from the opposition's perspective that obviously we would like to come to Myanmar today and so forth, but what we intend to do, in terms of how we might structure our questions, is ODA as a block tomorrow morning. That may not be the case for other senators, but that's how we intend to deal with it. I thought for the efficacy of the hearing I should flag that upfront. I also, Secretary, have some questions which I will go to with the CFO or others no doubt. I thought it might be most efficient if I table those and if they can come tomorrow morning prepared, preferably in writing but certainly able to answer these. Could I do that, Chair? It is just questions. Do you want to see them?

CHAIR: No. I think I half saw them.

Senator Payne: Do you have one of your tables you want to share with them, as well?

Senator WONG: No, they do the tables.

Senator Payne: Sometimes you've brought a table—

Senator WONG: That was in Defence, and now Defence are doing my tables for me!

Senator Payne: I will fix that!

Senator WONG: It is showing how much less you're spending than you said you would, but if you want to hide that from the public you go right ahead, Minister. That's fine.

CHAIR: Moving right along.

Senator WONG: I resisted the temptation to talk about negative globalism as the minister expanded on the benefits of multilateralism. It still hasn't appeared in one of your speeches, I see. Minister, I am going to India and stranded Australians and the citizen bans. Can I first get an update on the total number of Australians who are still stranded around the world—that is, not all those who are currently overseas but those who have registered as wishing to return home.

Ms Wood : As at 28 May, we had 35,128 Australians registered with DFAT as wishing to return to Australia.

Senator WONG: How many are classified as vulnerable?

Ms Wood : Of those, 4,260 are identified as vulnerable.

Senator WONG: What are the top countries in which they're located?

Ms Wood : The top five or the top 10?

Senator WONG: The top five.

Ms Wood : India, the United Kingdom, the United States, the Philippines and Thailand.

Senator WONG: I now turn to India. Can we get an update on the number of Australians stranded in India? Is it still 11,152, or has that changed?

Ms Wood : That's changed. As at 28 May, the total number of currently registered Australians wishing to return from India was 10,994.

Senator WONG: How many are classified as vulnerable?

Ms Wood : 1,024.

Senator WONG: How many are unaccompanied minors?

Ms Wood : We don't have unaccompanied minors.

Senator WONG: What do you mean?

Ms Wood : A minor is only unaccompanied if they get on a plane by themselves.

Senator WONG: Okay. What would you like me to call them?

Ms Wood : I think it's an important distinction.

Senator WONG: How many Australian people under 18 are in India without their parents?

Ms Wood : I would like to put this in the context that the Australians registered with us who are under the age of 18 in India are in India with family members or guardians. They're not there by themselves.

Senator WONG: Okay. It's all fine then, isn't it! Really, can't you just give me the number rather than getting into this?

Ms Wood : I'd also like to make the point that, since we commenced facilitating—

Senator WONG: The number, please. Someone else can ask you the question if you want to explain—

CHAIR: Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: It's non-responsive. I understand that she—

CHAIR: Senator Wong, you asked about children without parents. Ms Wood is clarifying that there are, as I understand it, many Australian children of Indian descent or Indian heritage who are in India, potentially without parents but with family. Because of their cultural linkages, or how they do business in their family, they often stay with uncles, aunts, grandparents and extended family. As a result, to label them as children by themselves may not paint the proper picture. That is what Ms Wood was seeking to put on the record.

Senator WONG: With all due respect, the minister can make a political comment. I'm asking an officer of the department about a number. If the minister wants to make a political comment in response, she can, but the officer should respond with the number. She's been asked this before.

CHAIR: This is not political in any way, shape or form.

Senator WONG: It is, actually.

CHAIR: It is providing context.

Senator WONG: To have an argument over whether they're unaccompanied—okay, they're kids under the age of 18.

CHAIR: We're not getting off to a good start, are we? It's so early in the morning.

Senator WONG: No. I don't mind it when officers—

CHAIR: When the chair seeks to speak, the chair should be heard in relative silence.

Senator WONG: Relative silence!

CHAIR: Ms Wood, I think, was trying to contextualise a cultural situation with our Indian Australians, which I think was important. I think Ms Wood has done that, and you can now ask your question, please.

Senator WONG: I've asked it three times.

Ms Wood : We currently have 209 minors registered with us. I also want to make the point that this week we're working with 20 families to bring them back. This week, five children have come back with guardians—

Senator WONG: Did I ask you that? I'll give you an opportunity to give the spiel, okay? I'm just doing numbers now. You can respond when I start to ask questions about arrangements. So there are 209 unaccompanied—what would you like me to call them?

Ms Wood : Minors.

Senator WONG: But they're not unaccompanied; you don't want to say 'unaccompanied', because that sounds bad. Who told you to do that?

Ms Wood : It's simply a fact.

Senator WONG: No, I'm asking. Did you have a discussion with anyone in the department about not using the term 'unaccompanied', because I know—

Ms Wood : It's a question of how they're registered.

Senator WONG: But that is not my question.

Ms Wood : I'm answering your question. In CCCI, which is our registration platform, we have a category of minors who are registered as single travellers, so they're not registered as part of a family group.

Senator WONG: Single traveller minors. Okay, we'll call them that. But I want to know: did anyone from the minister's office or the department have a discussion with you about not using the term 'unaccompanied'?

Ms Wood : No.

Ms Adamson : Senator, we don't use the phrase 'unaccompanied minors' within the department, because—

Senator WONG: Okay. Fair enough, but it looks like—

CHAIR: Please don't interrupt the secretary in her last estimates.

Senator WONG: Don't do that.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, being a South Australian you will have to show her a lot more deference when she becomes Her Excellency.

Senator WONG: She is an Adelaide girl. She is fine.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Senator Wong, just remember you won't be invited.

Senator WONG: I will be fine. It is Adelaide.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: She is off the Christmas card list, Ms Adamson.

CHAIR: Ms Adamson, I think you had the call.

Ms Adamson : Can I suggest that we do this in the normal business way?

Senator WONG: I am not the one saying I have to treat you like some protected species because it's your last time. He is. I understand that, but how it looks—

CHAIR: I'm just trying to keep law and order.

Senator WONG: What did you call them? Single travellers. I will call them unaccompanied minors. If you don't agree with that, that is fine. I have to say to the people whose kids are over there—for you to you sit there and quibble about the phrase 'unaccompanied minors' it is pretty hard for people to hear. If their kids are over there and you're here as a person who is primarily responsible, although the minister ultimately is, for getting people back, to quibble about a category—these are real people. Kids over there; parents here. Think about that instead of quibbling about a category.

Ms Wood : We are supporting them. They are with family. We want to reunite families and that is an objective.

Senator WONG: Let's not quibble about a term then. How many Australians in India have died from COVID-19?

Ms Wood : That we are aware of?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Ms Wood : Two.

Senator WONG: I thought it was three.

Ms Wood : I will check. The number I have is two.

Senator WONG: Can you come back on that? Can you provide the best estimate that you have on India's current COVID-19 case load, death toll and trajectory of the latest outbreak?

Ms Wood : Can I take that on notice and come back to you over the course of the morning?

Senator Payne: I think Mr Cowan may have some information.

Mr Cowan : The current total case load in India as of 31 May was 28 million, 127,000 daily cases.

Senator WONG: Death toll?

Mr Cowan : On 31 May there were 2,795 daily deaths.

Senator WONG: Cumulative?

Mr Cowan : Cumulative it's 332,000.

Senator WONG: These are the official figures? What is the source of these figures that you are giving me?

Mr Cowan : There are a range of sources, including the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the state health bulletins. It is data that we have compiled from Indian sources.

Senator WONG: Some of the commentary, public health and other commentary, has placed very high multiples on some of the official figures. Obviously it's a very large population, a developing country and so forth, with much more limited capacity to track public health statistics. What can you say to me about the margin of differential that might be in those figures? Could it be double, triple?

Mr Cowan : What I could say—

Senator Payne: I am very happy for Mr Cowan to respond—

Senator WONG: I tried to be careful about how I asked it.

Senator Payne: I understand that. I have seen the commentary myself and I do think it is difficult for us to do that, but I'm very happy for Mr Cowan to respond.

Senator WONG: With a caveat. I understand that. I'm just trying to get a sense of what you're working off. If you're briefing the minister, you are saying, 'These are the figures that we've compiled from these data sources. Our assessment is the range of possibility might be up to X, Y or Z'?

Mr Cowan : I probably can't give you that detail—

Senator WONG: Okay. What can you give me?

Mr Cowan : but what I could say is that the rate of positivity at the date that I was talking about, 31 May, was seven per cent positivity of 1.9 million tests. It's true that a lot of commentators have said that this is only a small fraction of what the real infection numbers might be but we don't have reliable data—

Senator WONG: That is probably a better way to explain it. Those figures, obviously, wherever they are from, must be predicated on the 1.9 million tests to date, or per—

Mr Cowan : That was 1.9 million tests on 31 May.

Senator WONG: As at that day—

Senator Payne: No, on that day.

Ms Adamson : On that day.

Mr Cowan : On that day.

Senator WONG: What is the cumulative number?

Mr Cowan : The cumulative number of tests?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Senator Payne: I'm not sure we would have that, Senator.

Mr Cowan : No.

Senator WONG: Alright. So, it's predicated on—I won't come back to that.

Mr Cowan : The trend has been down, though, over the last—

Senator WONG: But the denominator matters.

Mr Cowan : Yes.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can you give me an update on the current lockdown arrangements in India?

Mr Cowan : Senator, I will have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Okay. My understanding is—but I would like this clarified—there's no current national lockdown; there are series of localised lockdowns. I just wonder if you could come back with that.

Senator Payne: That's my understanding as well, Senator, but we'll confirm.

Senator WONG: How many facilitated flights have landed in Australia since the travel ban was lifted on 15 May, and where did they land?

Ms Wood : Eight flights have landed. From 15 May until today, we've have had eight flights land—three into Howard Springs and one each into Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

Senator WONG: How many more facilitated flights are currently scheduled?

Ms Wood : We have three scheduled before the end of June. Sorry, I have to correct myself. There are five scheduled until the end of June—three from India and two from Europe.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I should have said 'from India'. So there are three flights from India before the end of June?

Ms Wood : That's right.

Senator WONG: Are there any more scheduled?

Ms Wood : We have plans going forward, but the specific dates haven't yet been finalised.

Senator WONG: Where will those three flights go?

Ms Wood : All three are going into Howard Springs.

Senator WONG: So, as at the conclusion of those 11 flights, approximately how many people would have come in on a facilitated flight since the ban was lifted?

Senator Payne: They're capped at about 150.

Ms Adamson : That's a maximum.

Senator Payne: Sorry, Senator. They're capped at 150. That's 1,200 Australians on the eight flights due into Australia by the end of this week times three more, which is 450, so that will take it to just over 1,500.

Senator WONG: So it's 150 times by eight. Is that what you just said?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator Payne: Basically, yes. Your mental arithmetic is better than mine! But that's not revelatory. Everybody knows that—

Senator WONG: Actually finance ministers don't do any arithmetic in their head! Can you confirm that there was an email sent from the DFAT consular team on 28 May which said, 'Dear traveller, please note the link for QF112, Delhi to Perth, departing 1 June 2021, is closed, as all flights from India are currently fully booked'? It then made this statement: 'There are no scheduled facilitated flights from India after 3 June at this stage.' Are you familiar with this email?

Ms Wood : Yes, I am, Senator.

Senator WONG: Why was that sent?

Ms Wood : When that was sent on 28 May, it was accurate at the time it was sent and it was encouraging people to sign up for the flight that was linked to that email.

Senator WONG: No, it's not; it's saying it's closed. It's not encouraging people to sign up.

Ms Wood : It was encouraging people to sign up to the flights that were then open.

Senator WONG: No, that's not right. It just says, 'Please note the link for the flight is closed, as all flights are currently booked.' So your assessment is not correct. It then says, 'There are no scheduled facilitated flights from India after 3 June.'

Ms Wood : I apologise. The first part—that particular flight had been finished. At the time it was sent, there were no further flights scheduled. There are now three further flights scheduled between now and the end of June. They were approved this week.

Senator WONG: By whom?

Ms Wood : We signed the contract with Qantas this week.

Senator WONG: Did you only sign for three?

Ms Wood : We do it on a rolling basis. We have an overarching agreement to do facilitated flights for as long as they're required. There was a measure in the budget of $55 million for up to 120 facilitated commercial flights over the remainder of this year and going forward for the next two years. But we approved them on a rolling basis so that they are from the places we need them at the time we need them.

Senator WONG: How many of them have you approved?

Ms Wood : We have five until the end of June which are approved at this stage.

Senator WONG: No, from India.

Ms Wood : Three.

Senator WONG: That's it?

Ms Wood : Until the end of June.

Senator WONG: Have you got any more approved for July?

Ms Wood : No, we don't. That doesn't mean they're not planned. They are planned but not yet approved, because we'll match them to the sources that we require them from, and we're still finalising the arrangements.

Senator WONG: So when will you announce more flights?

Ms Wood : That hasn't yet been decided.

Senator WONG: By whom? I just don't like this passive language: 'That hasn't yet been decided,' by some mythical power in the air. People take responsibility. Whose decision is it to approve more flights? Is it the minister's? Is it Secretary Adamson's? Is it yours? Whose is it?

Ms Wood : The process is that we look forward over the coming weeks and we talk to Qantas about the arrangements that they are able to support. We put a plan to the foreign minister's office. That is then approved, and then we sign a contract with Qantas.

Senator WONG: How many plans are sitting in her office currently?

Ms Wood : There are none currently there, because the one this week has been approved. We do it on a rolling basis.

Senator WONG: When did you give her the plan for the three flights? When was that briefed to her office?

Ms Wood : I would have to ask my colleagues to give you the date.

Senator WONG: How long did you have it for, Minister?

Senator Payne: I'm not sure. I'll check.

Senator WONG: The failure to do that meant that people got this message, which was pretty distressing. I certainly had people contact my office. They were told, 'The flight's closed, and we've got no flights for June.'

Ms Wood : I'm sure we can come back to you and tell you the time we went to the office and came back. The minister's office turns it around very quickly. It's a standard process now. What we do is approve them on a rolling basis. I can tell you that the three that went on sale last night are now sold out.

Senator WONG: Of course they're sold out. It's called supply and demand. You have 11,000 people wanting to come home. At maximum, by the end of the financial year, you're going to get 1,200 back, if you get the 150 cap et cetera. I think it will be fewer. So what's that? Ten per cent? Of course they're sold out. People are desperate to get home.

Ms Wood : We have a plan for July. We're still fine-tuning the timing and the arrangements.

Senator WONG: How many are you proposing for July?

Ms Wood : I don't have that information in front of me.

Senator WONG: Come on. How many are you thinking about for July?

Ms Wood : On a regular basis. Can I come back to you with that?

Senator WONG: On a regular basis?

Ms Wood : It goes to the capacity of Howard Springs as well. They can turn around flights on a rolling basis approximately every 10 days.

Senator WONG: Yes. The capacity problem, or the ceiling on what you can do, is actually quarantine.

Senator Payne: These flights, particularly the ones that you're discussing with Ms Wood, are going to Howard Springs.

Senator WONG: Yes.

Senator Payne: They are using the facility there. We are negotiating with the Northern Territory to use the available spaces there. Managing what had previously been a growing positive load on incoming flights meant that we have now started the system of preflight quarantine in India, with extensive testing—that regime that is in place now. This is about working with the Northern Territory, with Health and with Qantas on the scheduling,

Senator WONG: It's also about your failure to deliver quarantine. Even Jane Halton, your own adviser, has been publicly critical of the slow rollout of this government's national quarantine facilities. The reality is you have chosen not to do it. We're a year and a bit into a pandemic, and the ceiling on people coming home primarily is an absence of quarantine spaces. I'm obviously going to push Ms Wood on her process for flights et cetera, but the current lack of a safe set of national quarantine arrangements, which for some reason you and the Prime Minister don't wish to engage in, is why we have so many Australians left behind.

Senator Payne: Through the process of Howard Springs, we have, I think, moved to a capacity of 2,000 starting this month. The hotel quarantine system sees, I think, around 6,000 weekly, with New South Wales taking the lion's share of that, at 3,000.

Senator WONG: Hotels are built for tourism, not quarantine. Hotels are built for tourism and business travellers.

CHAIR: Allow the minister to continue.

Senator Payne: The provision of hotel quarantine in this country is—

Senator WONG: A matter for the states?

CHAIR: Allow the minister to continue.

Senator Payne: enabling 6,000 Australians, approximately, to return through the processes of commercial flights and facilitated flights. That's an important component of what we're able to do.

Senator WONG: But they also have—

Senator Payne: The Howard Springs facility, as I said, has increased to 2,000 this month. So with the Northern Territory, with Health and with Qantas, we'll continue to work to roll those flights into Howard Springs to maximise the number of people we can assist to return from India at this time.

Senator WONG: Let's start with quarantine. You were advised repeatedly to establish surge facilities for safe national quarantine to deal with the likely surge of requirement for quarantine from the pandemic. You refused to do so. You've insisted it's the states' responsibility. You've pushed it onto hotel quarantine—we know the problems with that; in some circumstances they've been coronavirus distribution centres and they've caused massive lockdowns.

CHAIR: Is there a question?

Senator WONG: I just let the minister respond with a lot of words, so I'm going to respond too. There will be a question at the end of it. It' a national responsibility which you have been so reluctant to take up, and the consequence has been that Australians are less safe and we have more lockdowns across the country, including at the moment in Melbourne. And that's all because the Prime Minister, you—apparently—and others in this government do not want to take responsibility for what is your responsibility, which is a safe system of national quarantine.

Another consequence, of course, is that we have more Australians stranded as we get more virulent variants internationally and the situation becomes more perilous. I sat in this committee last year and said that the longer they stay stranded overseas, the more perilous their situation will become.

Senator Payne: Hundreds of thousands of Australians have returned to Australia—

Senator WONG: Do you ever take responsibility?

CHAIR: Senator, the minister listened to your commentary without interjecting.

Senator WONG: Sure.

CHAIR: Please listen to the minister's response with the same courtesy that was extended to yourself.

Senator WONG: Nobody in this government ever takes responsibility for anything.

Senator Payne: Hundreds of thousands of Australians have returned to this country through the hotel quarantine process and now through the Howard Springs quarantine process. The Halton report, as I understand it, said the Australian government should consider a national facility for quarantine to be used—

Senator WONG: Did you read it?

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator—

Senator WONG: What do you mean by 'as you understand it'? Did you listen to what she said last night—

CHAIR: Senator Wong!

Senator WONG: Sorry, yes.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, would you please allow the minister—

Senator Payne: Chair, I'm very happy, if Senator Wong wishes to continue to interrupt, not to say anything. I'm very happy not to respond to Senator Wong's questions if that's her preference.

Senator WONG: Do you ever take responsibility?

Senator Payne: The responsibility is delivering the Howard Springs facility, which stands at a capacity of 2,000 for returning Australians.

Senator WONG: You're the foreign minister of this country. You were tasked last year with a plan to bring Australians home. Since that time, we have seen—

Senator Payne: Hundreds of thousands of Australians have returned—

Senator WONG: Tell that to the kids who are left over there and to the Australians who are there. Tell that to the people of Melbourne, who are currently in a lockdown because an inadequate quarantine facility has been used, after—

Senator VAN: Because the Andrews government—

CHAIR: Senator Van, please don't.

Senator WONG: Yes, that's right; it's all their fault, isn't it? It's after you were told repeatedly—repeatedly—to establish national safe quarantine.

Senator Payne: Senator, the Howard Springs facility is a 2,000-bed quarantine facility which is the response to the recommendation of the Halton report. The Howard Springs facility is what is currently enabling us to return the flights from India that you've been discussing with Ms Wood. That's the Commonwealth's engagement in that matter with the Northern Territory government, through Health and through the other relevant agencies, to ensure that that's possible.

And it is the case, whether you like it or not, Senator, that hundreds of thousands have returned to this country since March 2020—a significant number of them on facilitated commercial flights arranged by the government; a significant number of them on flights assisted by the government and facilitated in other ways by the government; and a significant number of them on commercial flights into Australia. They have gone through the hotel quarantine system; I think it now numbers over 300,000 Australians who have gone through hotel quarantine. And whilst the issues that have arisen are issues that have had to be dealt with—I absolutely acknowledge that—it has enabled those people to return to Australia, and without it it would not have been possible for them to do so.

Senator WONG: Yes, it's all hunky-dory, isn't it? It's all hunky-dory.

Senator Payne: No, Senator; I did acknowledge that there have been issues that have had to be addressed.

Senator WONG: You dragged your feet on national quarantine, just as you're dragging your feet on the rollout of the vaccine. Anyway—

Senator Payne: I acknowledged that there have been issues that have had to be addressed. You just choose not to listen to those aspects of my response.

Senator WONG: No, I just don't think you're saying anything that actually goes to the fundamental point. There's always a lot of words, a lot of polysyllabic sentences, but the substance—the substance is that your government walked away from its responsibility for safe national quarantine, and you refuse to face up to the consequences of that for people in Melbourne and for people in India.

Senator Payne: Senator, the substance is that 500,000 Australians have returned to this country in the midst of a global pandemic—

Senator WONG: Yeah, you're great!

Senator Payne: and that has been an extensive undertaking. That is not to detract—

Senator WONG: Stop self-congratulating. It's unbelievable.

Senator Payne: from the challenges that families and communities have dealt with through this process—not at all—

Senator WONG: Do you not talk to these people?

Senator Payne: But your refusal, Senator, to acknowledge the effort that has been put into this process by officials, by posts around the world—your refusal to acknowledge that—is I think most unfair to those officials.

CHAIR: Ms Adamson, I trust that Government House is going to be a bit quieter than what you are being subjected to at the moment! I encourage us—

Senator WONG: Senator Payne, I would encourage you to talk to some of the people who contacted—

CHAIR: to get back to questions and answers.

Senator WONG: I'm happy to do that.

CHAIR: Do you have a question?

Senator WONG: Yes. On notice, I'd like the minister to tell us how many stranded Australians and their families she's spoken to over the last six months. And can you tell me: Howard Springs was supposed to be at 2,000 by the end of May and now, from what the minister just said, it's not going to be until possibly next month. Can someone—

Senator Payne: No, it's now.

Ms Wood : It is at 2,000.

Senator WONG: Right—sorry; I thought she said it will be next month.

CHAIR: Less interjecting and more listening might help.

Senator WONG: I'm happy to go back to the Hansard to see what the minister said. What's the average wait time on the register? That is, you've currently got 11,000, was it? No, sorry—I'm talking about the cumulative figure, which is 35,128 on the register. I don't want to get into who's coming on it and who's coming off. What's the average wait time?

Senator Payne: What do you mean?

Senator WONG: How long is someone on the register before they come home, on average?

Ms Wood : I cannot answer that question.

Senator WONG: You don't interrogate that? It might be useful. It might actually tell you what demand you're not meeting.

Ms Wood : People register for different reasons, so—

Senator WONG: I know that.

Ms Wood : People are registered because they wish to return at some point. So, to say how long they've been on there—they could have been on there for a long time and it's not that they haven't had the opportunity to take a flight but that they haven't chosen to take a flight that's been offered to them.

Senator WONG: Okay; fine. Can you see my frustration here? I'm asking you a statistical question, and you give me what I regard as a political answer about why: why I shouldn't be asking that; that it's not relevant. It is relevant. It is relevant to know how long people are on the register. If you want to add that as a caveat, you do that. Can you please tell me what the average wait time is?

Senator Payne: We don't have an average wait time—

Senator WONG: No, I bet you don't.

Senator Payne: but we can analyse the data to provide you with some information, on notice.

Senator WONG: Okay. What is the average wait time on the vulnerable component, the vulnerable list—I can't remember what the category—

Ms Wood : Again, I'm happy to take that on notice and interrogate our data. People whom we have identified as vulnerable may or may not choose to take up the opportunity of a flight that is offered to them.

Senator WONG: Okay, but that's a justification for wait time. You can say, 'Of these people, we estimate that 10 per cent didn't take a flight.' It's not a response to the primary question.

Senator Payne: Ms Wood did respond. She said she would analyse the data and provide you with a response.

Senator WONG: Fine. How long will that take? Can we get that tomorrow?

Ms Wood : We'll work on it today.

Senator WONG: I'd appreciate that. If you can only do vulnerable because the bigger list is too difficult to analyse, then I'd prefer just for the vulnerable. Can you do the same thing for the unaccompanied minors—what the average wait time is? And, if possible, what's the longest period of waiting that anyone's had? I'm also a little bit confused about Howard Springs, so perhaps you could get this clarified. I understand that the Department of Health told estimates last night that Howard Springs is not yet at 2,000 capacity. Did you watch that evidence?

Ms Wood : I'll check that. We understood it was.

Senator WONG: Could someone be clear about this? If we're getting a different answer in different estimates, it would be useful to clarify that. Back to this email which says, 'There are no scheduled facilitated flights from India after 3 June at this stage,' the Prime Minister did say that he was going to do everything he can to bring Australians home. How do you think people felt when they got that email saying, 'There are no scheduled facilitated flights from India after 3 June at this stage'? What do you think, Minister, if you were stranded in India and you got that from your government?

Senator Payne: I have not seen that specific email, but I do know that the consular team in Canberra through the CCD and the consulates and the high commission in New Delhi have been in regular contact with the Australians who are there and providing them with information on a regular basis. That contact I'm sure Ms Wood can go into greater detail on, but I understand Mr O'Farrell referred, in his evidence to the Senate committee, that that is part of the core business of those posts right now—to engage with and provide information to those Australians as it becomes available.

Senator WONG: How would you think an Australian citizen in India trying to get on a flight would feel if they got an email from their government saying, 'There are no scheduled facilitated flights from India after 3 June at this stage'?

Senator Payne: I'm saying that is part of the communication process.

Senator WONG: Wow!

Senator Payne: It is not the whole of the communication process and—

Senator WONG: Can you point me to another—

CHAIR: Allow the minister to answer.

Senator Payne: There are personal calls, personal engagement, engagement through the three consulates and the high commission itself as well and through Ms Wood's team with families and with individuals who are seeking to make—

Senator WONG: Ms Wood, how do you think they would feel if they got that?

Ms Wood : I understand that somebody who read that may have been concerned. I can assure you that every single person who received that email has subsequently received emails about the ongoing flights and have been offered flights.

Senator WONG: The three others. I think you said two Australians had died.

Ms Wood : That we are aware of.

Senator WONG: There was a public report that in May there was Australian permanent resident, Mr Govind Kant, from Sydney and then Mr Sunil Khanna also from Sydney.

Ms Wood : I'm aware of the reports of this, but you'd understand that our consular practice is not to provide any information due to privacy reasons.

Senator WONG: I'm only reading off public reports, but I had understood it was one permanent resident and two citizens, so I was surprised at your answer.

Ms Wood : In terms of our consular support, particularly during this pandemic crisis, we provide support to Australian citizens and permanent residents. So when I say Australians I don't want to have created any confusion. Whether they're technically a citizen or a permanent resident, we provide consular support to them.

Senator WONG: Do we keep government informed about how many Australian citizens or permanent residents are dying in India while stranded? Surely that's something government should be advised of.

Ms Wood : We know when people inform us of that. We don't know if they don't inform us. There's not a requirement to register with the high commission or with consulates when tragic circumstances take place overseas.

Senator WONG: Has the government contemplated any medivac flights for people with the virus or close contacts?

Ms Wood : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: Have you been asked for any advice about medivac facilities?

Ms Wood : No.

Senator WONG: Do you have any estimate as to when all of the 1,024 vulnerable Australians will be home?

Ms Wood : I can assure you we are in contact with them regularly for every flight to offer them every opportunity. What I can't tell you is which flight they may decide to get on and when they're going to be back in Australia.

Senator WONG: Come on! Can you please not—

CHAIR: I'm sure there's a question.

Senator WONG: Yes, there is. I just think the inference in that answer is actually quite offensive—that they might not come home because they might not choose to get on a flight. Your flights book out like that!

Ms Wood : And we offer those flights to—

Senator WONG: The demand outstrips supply, doesn't it? Will you acknowledge that?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. So do you have any sense of, any target for or any planning for when the 1,024 Australians that you have classified as vulnerable, stranded in India as this virus rages, will get home? Do you have any planning target?

Ms Wood : We are in contact with them for every single flight. They get priority for every single flight. At the end of the day, it is the choice of those people which flight they take. So I am unable to tell you when they will be back in Australia.

Senator WONG: Since the last figures that I had—I can't recall if they're estimates figures or COVID committee figures—the actual number is only 15 fewer on the vulnerable list?

Ms Wood : And it does fluctuate.

Senator WONG: Sure. So there's no assessment of a target to which you're working to try and get vulnerable people home?

Ms Wood : The plan is to give them priority access to every single flight we organise, and give them the first opportunity to be on those planes and offer them every support to be on those planes.

Senator WONG: Will they be home this year?

Ms Wood : It's a decision for the passengers at the end of the day.

Senator WONG: No, it isn't.

Senator Payne: It is, actually—in part, at least. Can I explain why?

Senator WONG: I understand the argument, but you have a supply and demand problem. More people are trying to get home than you can offer seats and places. To blame them or to shift responsibility onto them is really offensive.

Senator Payne: That is not what is being said by Ms Wood or by me. If I may explain—

Senator WONG: I understand the argument. The three flights that are scheduled are booked out, aren't they?

Ms Wood : They were given the first opportunity. I can't tell you which number of those—

Senator WONG: Are they booked out?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. So there's not a lot of choice for those who miss out, is there?

Ms Wood : They were offered the first opportunity on the flights.

Senator WONG: Yes, but there's no choice if they didn't get on it.

Ms Wood : They were offered the first opportunity for a seat.

Senator WONG: But even those flights—they are 150 seats; so that's 450 seats. You've got 1,029 vulnerables. Where is the choice? There are not enough places in quarantine, and not enough places, therefore, on the plane.

Senator Payne: They are the flights that are going to Howard Springs. There are also facilitated flights going to other cities in Australia. There are also circumstances where families sometimes find themselves in a position where they are unable to fly, even though they have been offered seats. That is because their circumstances change.

We now have in place a quite stringent pre-flight quarantine and testing process, which elongates this time line as well. It's elongated at the front end, before people are able to take flights. That was one of the challenges in dealing with the bookings for the first flight, where there was a high percentage of individual passengers and close contacts who were unable to fly because they tested positive. They have been our priority to rebook, once their isolation period has ceased; that is part of this process as well. As I indicated earlier, there are many, many hours of consular officials working directly with families to make the best arrangements for them and for their families, to support them. That absolutely does not detract, though, from the very difficult circumstances that many families are facing, and we are very, very aware of that.

Senator WONG: Okay. So, Ms Wood, you won't give me an estimate as to when the 1,024 vulnerables will be home?

Ms Wood : Simply because I can't. I can assure you that we are working closely with them on every single flight to give them the first opportunity.

Senator WONG: Will you give me your best estimate as to when the 209 unaccompanied minors will be home?

Ms Wood : Again, we are working closely with every single family to identify the circumstances—when they want their children to come home and to find a way to do that. Five have travelled back this week.

Senator WONG: Did you answer my question?

CHAIR: Sorry—your question again?

Senator WONG: Will you give me an estimate as to when the 209 unaccompanied minors currently stranded in India will be home? Just say, 'No, I won't', if you won't.

Ms Wood : As soon as possible.

Senator WONG: When will that be?

Ms Wood : We are working on a case-by-case basis with each family. Every family's circumstances are different.

Senator WONG: At least be honest if you won't. At least say, 'I can't give it to you.' I tell you what; I reckon they'd appreciate that more than all the words we're getting.

Ms Wood : We have been working with each and every family. We are providing them with advice and with support. We are providing them with information.

Senator WONG: This is not about you.

Ms Wood : We are working side by side with these families.

Senator WONG: I was going to say that to the minister. I know how hard officials work. But it's actually not about you; it's about them.

Ms Wood : And every family circumstance is different.

Senator WONG: I'm entitled, and they are entitled to ask me, to ask you these questions. Frankly, I think people would appreciate and respect, instead of a word salad, 'No, we can't give you an estimate.' That would at least be honest. You can't, can you?

Senator Payne: I think it is very difficult to give you an estimate, and the reason for that goes to the sorts of circumstances Ms Wood has talked about. I think Ms Wood said, but I'm not sure whether it was recorded, that in this last week we have been able to assist five families with the return of their children who had been in India. We are doing that flight by flight, family by family, case by case.

Around the world, since this process of trying to support people to return started, we have seen families' circumstances change, where arrangements have been made to transport children and families but they have not been able to be completed. One of the reasons they haven't been able to be completed is families change their minds. We have seen circumstances around the world where seats have been booked for families to bring children home, and those families have then decided to leave their children in country for a whole range of reasons and travel without them. We have seen seats booked for children to travel which have been impacted at this end, by lockdowns here, where family members have been unable to receive them because of lockdowns in Australia. That has immediately, on a dime, changed travel arrangements. It is intensive, it is focused—and I appreciate your acknowledgement of the work that officials are doing—and we absolutely understand and know that it's not about us or officials; nobody was suggesting that it is. But we also believe it's appropriate to recognise the work that is being done with families.

Senator WONG: I want to go to a case study of a person called Meg, who, I understand, appeared before the most recent COVID committee hearing, on 7 May. She is currently undergoing chemotherapy in India for cancer of the stomach. Her treatment finishes on 25 June. She is quite unwell and wants to return to Australia. She attempted to register for repatriation flights in May and June but missed out. Are you, Ms Wood, or is anyone in the department, aware of her case? She did appear at the committee.

Ms Wood : I'd need to take that on notice. I will find out whatever I can.

Senator WONG: I will put a few questions, and then you can go and get some advice. I am advised she can no longer afford to pay for her cancer treatment in India. She has private health insurance in Australia which would cover treatment. She is running out of money to sustain herself. She was promised she would be offered a seat on the next round of repatriation flights. I understand she was not able to get on flights in May and June. I want to know what steps were put in place to ensure that her situation, given she's undergoing chemotherapy, was recognised in the prioritisation of seats for the next round of repatriation flights. This week she attempted to book flights planned for 29 June, and she remained online for over an hour. Within minutes of the flights being released they were sold out. I want to know what contact the department has had to ensure that the undertaking the department gave as to priority was met, and I would like to understand what undertakings can be given by the department about following up with this Australian.

Ms Wood : I will take all those questions on notice and come back to you with information.

Senator WONG: Can I go to unaccompanied minors, or what you describe as underage single travellers—what was the first bit?

Ms Wood : I was referring to them as minors, not unaccompanied.

Senator WONG: Single travellers? Single travel minors?

Ms Wood : Minors registered with DFAT not part of a family group wishing to travel.

Senator WONG: I'm going to call them unaccompanied minors. You don't have to call them that, but you know what I'm talking about. You were asked by my colleague Senator Keneally in the COVID committee hearing on 7 May how many unaccompanied minors there were. I think Senator Keneally actually used the phrase 'children separated from parents'. Obviously that wasn't a number you had to hand. Until that question was asked—I'm sure the opposition asked it—was that not something the department had considered checking the consulate database about?

Ms Wood : Since that time, I've had the opportunity to talk to my colleagues and understand the situation in greater detail. I can tell you that, since the facilitated commercial flights resumed last October, DFAT has assisted 70 minors to return to Australia. So we have been doing this work in recent months.

Senator WONG: But I wasn't asking you about the work—I will ask about that. I was actually asking whether you had ever thought to check how many kids were on the list, before you were asked.

Ms Wood : I can answer that in two parts. I was unaware of that specific number. However, my colleagues both in New Delhi and here in Canberra have been working constantly with children in this situation to bring them safely back to Australia.

Senator WONG: Until that question was asked, did anyone in the SES or the foreign minister's office ever inquire into the number of unaccompanied minors in India?

Ms Wood : As I just explained to you, I did not know that specific number.

Senator WONG: I wasn't actually pursuing you; I was asking whether anyone asked.

Ms Wood : We haven't looked at it through that lens. But in terms of ensuring that children who were in India were safely reunited with families in Australia—and not only in India but in countries around the world—that work has been ongoing and the minister's office has been aware of it.

Ms Adamson : There has been a great deal of attention at all levels of the department, including the SES, on the overall case load of Australians wishing to return. Naturally India—because of its prominence, because of the numbers, because of the very difficult local situation—has received a great deal of attention. So the types of case load within that is something we've been familiar with. At the deputy secretary level, Tony Sheehan has been leading work on it. As to the absence of a particular number, we tend to work more on the individual cases, the types of cases, and work very closely with the high commission in New Delhi and our consulates around India in doing so.

Senator WONG: Minister, when did you first become aware of the number of unaccompanied Australian children stranded in India?

Senator Payne: As I've said this morning, my understanding is that our engagement is not characterised in that way; it's working with families, case by case, to support them and to assist them in their travel. The numbers change daily, in fact, so I was not working with a total in the way it has been characterised in the previous hearing.

Senator WONG: To be clear: before the previous hearing you had never asked how many kids are stranded in India?

Senator Payne: Not in total numbers, because the engagement is through families. My understanding is that, across the spectrum, there are children who arrived in India in 2020 and in 2021. There are some children who have never been recorded as having been to Australia, so I don't think they are passport holders or citizens in that context. There are some who arrived as long ago as 2008 and up to 2019. So it's not a homogenous group of children. They range significantly in age, they range significantly in circumstance, and their family circumstances are different. So where we are aware of any child who's unable to take a facilitated flight—and a number have returned through the Air India process as well; I think it is 20 or so—we work with the families to endeavour to make travel arrangements, as we've been discussing. We often get confidential advice on individual cases. That information is very sensitive. But we deal with them in a family context rather than as a homogeneous group. I would put it that way.

Senator WONG: Those are a lot of words again, but the answer to my question, as to whether or not you actually were aware of or had ever inquired as to the number of unaccompanied Australian children in India prior to 7 May, is no.

Senator Payne: No. The answer is that the children are dealt with in the family context.

Senator WONG: But you didn't ask, did you?

Senator Payne: Of course we were aware of the numbers of children—

Senator WONG: I'm asking you. You're the minister. It's not the royal we, it's not Ms Wood, and it's not Ms Adamson. I've asked them questions. I'm asking you as the minister. Did you ever ask your department: 'How many kids are there in India?'

Senator Payne: We work in the total of the whole number of people in India who are registered, plus the vulnerable group. That comprises many, many variations.

Senator WONG: So the answer is no.

Senator Payne: It's not dealt with in the way that you are asserting.

Senator WONG: Just say no. You didn't, did you?

Senator Payne: No, because it's not dealt with in the way that you are saying; it's dealt with in the context of the family discussions.

Senator WONG: In your single traveller minor category for the whole of the cohort—so not just India—how many are there now? Do you have that?

Ms Wood : Globally—I'd need to ask my colleagues.

Senator WONG: But you would track that, presumably?

Ms Wood : It goes to the point the minister was making—that we work case by case. We've brought home over 500 children from around the world. They're not necessarily registered in a category like that.

Senator WONG: I understand that—

Ms Wood : They're consular clients, so we work with them on a case-by-case basis.

Senator WONG: Could you just tell us how many got home so every time I ask a question I don't get the same answer? I understand you've got a lot of people home; there are also a lot of people stranded. I'm not asking that question. You've given a number for India, which is 209. I'm asking what that number is globally.

Ms Wood : I'll take it on notice.

Senator WONG: Surely you can get me that. I think you used the number 70 for unaccompanied minors who have returned so far—

Ms Wood : Seventy on facilitated commercial flights since October.

Senator WONG: But is that worldwide, or India?

Ms Wood : From India.

Senator WONG: So the 209 is with the 70 taken off?

Ms Wood : No, that is 209 children who are still in India.

Senator WONG: Sorry, that's what I meant. The 209 contemplates the 70; this is current number at date. Minister, you haven't tasked the department to prioritise these unaccompanied minors?

Senator Payne: The department is prioritising with children and their families in all of their work, as we have gone through extensively this morning.

Senator WONG: That wasn't my question. Have you asked the department to prioritise bringing those children home?

Senator Payne: The department is prioritising those children and their families, as they do in all of their work. It's not a separate task.

Senator WONG: Were they given priority for the three flights that were booked out in minutes?

Ms Wood : As we're working with each family on a case-by-case basis.

Senator WONG: Were they given priority in the booking process?

Senator Payne: Where we are able to assist them—

Senator WONG: Wow.

Senator Payne: No, as you know—

Senator WONG: It is a very specific question, and people can't answer it.

Senator Payne: Qantas does not take unaccompanied children, and we need a family member or a guardian to travel with them.

Senator WONG: Precisely.

Senator Payne: That requires family agreement, and that's what we're working on.

Senator WONG: Were they given priority for those flights?

Ms Wood : To the extent that they are wishing to travel right now, yes, they are given priority. To the extent that their arrangements in terms of visas and the quarantine support is all in place, yes, they are given priority.

Senator WONG: How many single traveller minors were on the three flights that were just booked?

Ms Wood : I don't know prospectively. I can find that out for you. I know of the flights that arrived this week that five children arrived back.

Senator WONG: So 70 since October and five in the last eight flights?

Ms Wood : Five this week. I just want to be clear: there have been eight flights in the last two weeks. I'm not sure whether the five—

Senator WONG: So the five is not the eight; the five is the three—correct?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: It's going to take a long time to get people home. When did you first consult Qantas about resuming repatriation flights from India from 15 May—this is you, Ms Wood, or does someone else do it?

Ms Wood : Yes, it is.

Senator WONG: When did the department first consult Qantas?

Ms Wood : I would need to take on notice the exact date.

Senator WONG: About—

Ms Wood : We stayed in contact with Qantas throughout the whole time, including during the pause, to make sure when flights resumed they were ready to go.

Senator WONG: How much are they being paid to carry out the repatriation flights?

Ms Wood : I will have to ask Murali, our chief financial officer, to give us the specific numbers.

Mr Venugopal : I don't have a number of the total amount that we paid to Qantas, and the reason for that is that the reconciliation process actually takes quite a bit of time. I can take it on notice and come back to you.

Senator WONG: That's fine. What can you give me—the value of the contract? I just want to get some sense of quantum.

Mr Venugopal : What I can tell you, considering that most of the flights since the hardship program began back in September were with Qantas, is the total value of what we've committed so far and what we are forecasting.

Senator WONG: But that would be globally, not just India?

Mr Venugopal : That is correct. I just don't have that breakdown. There is a possibility some of these flights may not be Qantas, but the majority would be Qantas. As of 28 May we had committed a total of around $22.6 million for the flights, and the majority of that is actually for flight costs. From my table it does include—

Senator WONG: Sorry—dates of this?

Mr Venugopal : 28 May.

Senator WONG: So for the financial year 2020-21 the commitment is $22.6 million?

Mr Venugopal : As of 28 May we have expended $22.6 million. We are forecasting to spend, for the whole financial year, around $28 million.

Senator WONG: That's globally?

Mr Venugopal : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Is it not disaggregated by country?

Mr Venugopal : I just don't have it disaggregated by country.

Senator WONG: What is the contractual basis, though? What's the nature of the arrangement with Qantas, Ms Wood? You said you've kept engaging with them, but earlier in the hearing you said that at the beginning of June you signed a contract for three flights. I'm assuming that the forecasting of $28 million is on the assumption of a series of rolling contracts—is that correct?

Ms Wood : That's correct.

Senator WONG: What budget are you working to—is it $28 million? What's the ceiling you're working to for the financial year?

Mr Venugopal : We have a total funding of $30 million.

Senator WONG: Is that something you work to? So, within your $30 million envelope, you can contract with Qantas?

Ms Wood : And other airlines.

Senator WONG: Has there been any consideration by government for any additional funding, given what's happening in India?

Ms Wood : In the budget, government announced around $55 million—

Senator WONG: For the current financial year?

Ms Wood : No, for the next financial year.

Senator WONG: Sorry—my question was about the current financial year. So, if you're operating on $30 million for this line item for the current financial year, that's a budget decision or a MYEFO decision—correct?

Mr Venugopal : In the 2021-22 budget—

Senator WONG: I'm not asking about the subsequent financial year; I'm asking about the current financial year.

Mr Venugopal : I am answering your question.

Senator WONG: Good—you're going to answer it.

Mr Venugopal : Indeed, I am. For the 2021-22 budget, the total funding that Ms Wood just talked about includes funding for 2020-21 as well.

Senator WONG: In addition to the $30 million?

Mr Venugopal : That's correct.

Senator WONG: How much more has been allocated?

Mr Venugopal : Since the 2019-20 July economic forecast, the government has committed $83 million towards facilitated commercial flights. That includes $56.4 million in the 2021-22 budget.

Senator WONG: I'm happy to take all that at some point. I'm actually asking for the current financial year. I'm trying to get what the baseline was for the 2020-21 year and how you've added to it, and then I want to come back and ask Ms Wood how she's handling that in the contracts.

Mr Venugopal : Sure. I'll give you the breakdown of those numbers—just bear with me for one second. The total of the $56.4 million is split in this fashion: it got $14.1 million in 2020-21, in this financial year, and $42.3 million in 2021-22. That gives a total of $56.4 million, which was announced in the 2021-22 budget.

Senator WONG: What did the net figure for the 2021 year then change to as a result of the $14 million allocation? What's the baseline? If it was 30 then it's obviously 16.

Mr Venugopal : That's right.

Senator WONG: So it was $16 million originally and then you got 14, taking you to $30 million for the current financial year?

Mr Venugopal : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Okay, that's all I wanted to know. Was that as a budget request from you Ms Wood? Was that a requested supplementation? Do you know?

Ms Adamson : Perhaps I can help. The funding of these flights has been provided in the normal way. We've certainly understood in working with colleagues across the service, including from transport, that where we need more funding that more funding will be available. The Department of Finance has been very forward leaning on that—

Senator WONG: Yes—

Ms Adamson : I'm not sure if that's what you're getting to?

Senator WONG: Obviously, that's in India. I understand that there you got a bit more funding. As a consequence of that did you contract more flights?

Ms Wood : Yes. The eight flights that came in were—

Senator WONG: But you told us previously that they were always going to happen. That's what I'm a bit confused about. That's part of what we were told, and what the Indian community were told, when the ban happened.

Ms Wood : Senator, you're correct, and it's because two things happened. One was that we were in the process of the scale-up because of the additional capacity at Howard Springs and then there was the COVID situation in India. Then we had a pause and now we've resumed those flights at a heightened tempo. I would need to take on notice the intersect between those previous additional flights which had been planned and the additional tempo that we've now had since the flights resumed.

Senator WONG: Okay. Of the $28 million which you anticipate spending this year, can you tell me—no, I'll withdraw that question. In your negotiations with Qantas, or your contractual arrangements, do you have a per flight cost?

Ms Wood : I don't know the specifics of the contract.

Senator WONG: When you negotiate for three more, what happens about the number—to the dollar?

Ms Wood : I could answer it the other way round, but it's not a specific answer: I'm aware—

Senator WONG: Okay, so who can answer—

Ms Wood : that each flight costs a certain amount.

Senator WONG: Who can tell me about the most recent one? I'm interested in interrogating what Qantas are getting and how they're getting it. Can someone come up who actually negotiates that if it's not you?

Mr Venugopal : What I can tell you is—

Senator WONG: No, you can't. With all due respect, you can tell me about budget numbers, and our discussions are always very interesting, but I'm not asking about budget numbers. I'm asking about the contractual basis of the payments.

Mr Venugopal : Yes. I can tell you the actuals—

Senator WONG: You told me you couldn't tell me the actuals.

Mr Venugopal : I'm saying that of course we have paid some bills—

Senator WONG: It's reconciliation. Your earlier answer was, 'I can't give you that because we haven't reconciled it.'

Mr Venugopal : Because all of it—

CHAIR: He's saying that he can give you an answer.

Senator WONG: It's magical!

Mr Venugopal : Not all of it is reconciled. There are more than 60 flights and some of those have been reconciled and some are yet to be. Like Ms Wood said, the net number actually changes quite significantly, depending on—

Senator WONG: What can you give me?

Mr Venugopal : I have actuals until about 28 January 2021—

Senator WONG: That's not helping.

Mr Venugopal : It takes a little bit of time to—

Senator WONG: That doesn't help me. I'm most interested in the Indian flights.

Ms Adamson : We'll come back to you, Senator.

Senator WONG: Yes.

Mr Venugopal : It can average anywhere between around $198,000 for a flight—this is the net cost in terms of what the government actually pays Qantas in the end, after passengers pay—all the way up to the highest number, which is around $570,000.

Senator WONG: In addition to what the passengers are charged?

Mr Venugopal : That's right; in addition to what passengers are charged. It changes.

Senator WONG: Half a million bucks.

Mr Venugopal : We estimate the cost to be roughly around $60 million in additional funding. On average, it is just under $500,000 a flight. It does not always come to $500,000. In most cases, it's less than $500,000, as I said, but in some cases, clearly, it has gone slightly over that. But we work with the best estimates.

Senator WONG: The average unit cost per flight of the program to 31 January, I think—wasn't it—

Mr Venugopal : So the—

Senator WONG: Let me finish the proposition. The average unit cost to the date that I can't recall but that you gave me, which I thought was the end of January, is between $198,000 and $570,000 per flight public subsidy over and above what passengers pay; is that right?

Mr Venugopal : That is correct. That is until that point in time, of course.

Senator WONG: Can we do it by flight? I think that's the best thing to do—what they're getting for the eight flights from India. How much are Australians being charged? What's the Australian cost, the passenger cost, in addition to this?

Ms Wood : Could I come back with the total picture—what the passengers have been charged and what the cost has been for each flight?

Senator WONG: Sure. Does it change, in the sense that, if somebody can't pay, do you have to pay Qantas more, and vice versa?

Ms Wood : The hardship program—

Senator WONG: So, if you can pay, you don't have to pay Qantas as much; is that how it works? Or does Qantas just get the benefit either way?

Ms Wood : They receive the same amount either way.

Senator WONG: From the government?

Ms Wood : Either the passenger has paid the unit price or, if they're eligible for the hardship program, then the government pays that cost.

Senator WONG: Yes, but—

Ms Wood : So Qantas still gets the same price per passenger.

Senator WONG: And you just get—

CHAIR: Is this a convenient time for the morning tea break?

Senator WONG: No. Let me think.

CHAIR: Alright, we'll sit here in silence.

Senator WONG: I'm just trying to think about how this actually operates financially. So your costs fluctuate, depending on the cohort of passenger. That's is the moving piece.

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: Okay, you can give me that. How much are Australians being charged?

Ms Wood : Can I put all of this together in one paper?

Senator WONG: I just want to know broadly.

Ms Wood : Ball park, I would imagine, for an India flight—

Senator Payne: I don't think we should be imagining. I think, as I understand it, it is the average cost of a commercial economy seat, and we will provide you with a more accurate number.

Senator WONG: Minister, you said Qantas doesn't accept unaccompanied minors, but they do for non-repatriation flights. The rule obviously changes for government facilitated flights?

Senator Payne: That's not my understanding, but I'm very happy to be corrected.

Senator WONG: Why don't we check that over the break? Did you want me to stop? I have a lot more.

CHAIR: There is two minutes to go, but if this is a convenient time—

Senator WONG: Okay. Who decided that Qantas would be responsible for the administration of the preflight testing regime?

Ms Wood : This probably goes to your question about the contract. When Qantas fulfils the obligation to us of bringing passengers back on a facilitated commercial flight, it's a partnership between the Commonwealth and Qantas, and then we work with Qantas on the arrangements. Qantas has certain requirements, and they always have had. For example, the arrangements for all of the facilitated commercial flights, even those out of Europe, might be somewhat different to regular commercial flights because of the requirements that Qantas has for the way that passengers are transported back. We worked with them when the flights resumed from 15 May on the arrangements, which were partly what we required. But part of it was what Qantas required to provide the maximum assurance to the passengers who were getting on those flights when they were coming back to Australia.

Senator WONG: I missed an answer to my question in that.

Ms Wood : The arrangement with the—

Senator WONG: They were responsible for the preflight testing regime for some of the recent flights. Was it agreed with the government that they would be responsible?

Ms Wood : There were two elements. The government requires that everybody returning to Australia has a negative PCR result within 72 hours of boarding the flight. That's an Australian government requirement. The way that that was carried out was established by Qantas, in terms of having a hotel bubble in New Delhi that the passengers go into.

Senator WONG: Was it part of an agreement with government that they would undertake that? They would ensure the negative PCR for that cohort?

Ms Wood : To get on the plane, for the Australian government requirements, every passenger must have a negative PCR test.

Senator WONG: I understood that.

Ms Wood : The way that it's carried out goes to the question of the contract, which I have undertaken to come back to you on.

Senator WONG: All I'm trying to work out—they were obviously responsible, under these arrangements. Who made the decision that they would be responsible and that the high commission wouldn't arrange it et cetera? I'm not critical—

Ms Wood : It's part of the Qantas contract arrangements.

Senator WONG: Okay, so the government has decided that Qantas will deal with this. You gave me two elements. The first was a negative PCR within 72 hours. What was the other one?

Ms Wood : For the specific arrangements on these eight flights that have come back from New Delhi recently, we have a bespoke arrangement, which Qantas manages, where passengers are more or less in an isolation bubble in a hotel for those 72 hours. They have the PCR test and then they remain in a hotel. They have a rapid antigen test six to eight hours before boarding the flight. If that remains negative, then they're taken straight to the plane, onto the plane and on to Australia.

Senator WONG: Was that bespoke arrangement, as you describe it, also in the contract?

Ms Wood : That's what I will check for you, but it's part of Qantas's arrangements for those flights.

Senator WONG: Did the government provide any guidance or assistance to Qantas about this procedure? What was the information that government provided to Qantas about how this was supposed to operate?

Ms Wood : I will come back to you on a specifics of the arrangement. The Australian government requirement is the negative PCR test 72 hours before departure.

Senator WONG: Yes, but there are a whole range of issues about the execution of that, and I'm asking whether or not anyone in government provides any indication to Qantas. Is there a document, a procedure or any clarification around process that Qantas gets about how that is to be given effect? After that, I am going to go to the issue of the testing, which has been in the media, and I'd like to understand whether Qantas had anything from the Australian government. You and I both know that you could have a test within 72 hours. I could probably get someone to give me a test. There must be certain standards and processes that you want. How was that clarified with Qantas? Is that possible?

Ms Wood : Yes, it is.

Senator WONG: Shall I keep going?

CHAIR: I think now would be a convenient time for us to take the morning adjournment.

Proceedings suspended from 10:32 to 10:47

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

Senator RICE: Thanks. I want to start with Magnitsky. Minister, at the last estimates you told me you had written to the Prime Minister about responding to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade's report on the Magnitsky sanctions. Can you tell me when you wrote that letter?

Senator Payne: I don't recall the date, Senator. I will check that and come back to you.

Senator RICE: Have you received a response?

Senator Payne: Not as yet. The government is still considering its response.

Senator RICE: Do you have any indication of why it's taking so long? That's over 10 weeks ago, given the last estimates was 10 weeks ago.

Senator Payne: It's a substantial report, to which you were a contributor, I believe. It's a substantial report. The government will continue to determine the path forward and respond when it's able to do so.

Senator RICE: Minister, do you know whether cabinet has considered the issue?

Senator Payne: I don't usually comment on cabinet deliberations.

Senator RICE: Can you tell me yes or no?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to comment on cabinet deliberations.

Senator RICE: It's over six months since the report was delivered—I think it was in December last year—and your letter to the Prime Minister was 10 over 10 weeks ago. Would you expect the report would go to cabinet of whether Australia was going to consider having a Magnitsky sanctions regime?

Senator Payne: The response to the report would be considered by ministers and it would be a matter for the Prime Minister as to whether the response went to cabinet as well.

Senator RICE: Have you received any indication from the Prime Minister as to when you would expect a response to your letter?

Senator Payne: Not a specific indication. There are ongoing discussions on these matters, but not a specific indication, no.

Senator RICE: What is your expectation? Given the level of interest and concern about having a regime in place to apply sanctions, would you be expecting to see a response from the Prime Minister this year?

Senator Payne: The government has 33 recommendations before it. They're comprehensive recommendations. As I said, it was a substantive report. I think the report itself took a year to produce, from the referral on 3 December 2019. We're looking at those recommendations and we will respond in due course.

CHAIR: Am I allowed to say that it was a very good report?

Senator Payne: I think I said it was a good report as well.

Senator RICE: Given that everyone thinks it was a good report, do you agree, Minister, that it would be good for that good report to be responded to in a timely fashion?

Senator Payne: A response will be provided when the government is able to do so.

Senator RICE: I want to move on to Myanmar. In a hearing of the joint standing committee's Human Rights Subcommittee, I think it was, we had the department saying that, in its assessment, additional sanctions by Australia would not have a positive impact on the ground. Do you agree with that assessment, Minister? Is that the government's current assessment?

Senator Payne: I understand there has been significant discussion of this issue and I understand why. We have taken a number of steps since the coup in February and we have been absolutely consistent in our calls for the exercise of restraint.

Senator RICE: But I am asking you about sanctions, Minister.

Senator Payne: It is not actually a black-and-white answer, so, if I may be able to provide some context in terms of the government response, that, I think, would be helpful to you and helpful to the response.

Senator RICE: Okay, but my question was basically whether the assessment that additional sanctions by Australia would not have a positive impact on the ground is still the government's assessment.

Senator Payne: The government keeps its position on sanctions under review, as I have been clear in saying. We are a regional actor, if you like, a regional presence, strongly engaged with ASEAN. We have been very committed to supporting regional efforts to de-escalate the situation in Myanmar and to work towards a solution. I've engaged with many of my regional colleagues and internationally on the question of sanctions. Our consideration is not to impose them at this time. It is not our view that they would advance our interests and our interests in supporting the ASEAN-led solution and the ASEAN efforts that are being made.

Senator RICE: So they're not an option at this time then?

Senator Payne: I think I would say they are under review regularly. It is actually something that I discuss with my advisers and with the department on a very regular basis. If there is a decision to impose sanctions, we will do that when it's appropriate, if it's appropriate and if it's in the national interest to do so.

Senator RICE: What would we be waiting for? When would it be determined to be appropriate?

Senator Payne: I think that's a hypothetical question. These circumstances are not predictable and they are not ones that we have a road map for, if you like. Our consultation with our regional partners is very important in this process, including with the current chair of ASEAN, with Brunei. I've been in contact with their foreign minister again this week on these matters. I saw him in London as he was a participant in the G7-plus Foreign and Development Ministers' Meeting. We have to factor all of our interests into a decision like that.

I do acknowledge—and that's what I was starting to do before—that there is a breadth of views on this subject, and I've certainly seen those and been engaged on those. I met with one of the leading US advocates on Myanmar in Washington last month, Tom Andrews—

Senator RICE: I think he's the UN special rapporteur, not just a leading advocate.

Senator Payne: If I could finish my sentence, he is also the UN special rapporteur, as you say. We had previously spoken on the phone as well. It was very good to have the chance to meet him in person. So these are matters which we will, as I said, keep under review.

Senator RICE: Minister, are you aware of the report prepared by the Australian Council for International Development that contrasts Australian sanctions with those of other countries?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator RICE: I would like to table a copy of some excerpts from that report, which, I understand, the secretariat has made copies of. In previous estimates, the department has said that we're working—

CHAIR: Just wait a minute, Senator Rice. Have we seen that?

Senator Payne: I haven't seen which report Senator Rice wants to table—not that it's for me to see. It's for you to see.

CHAIR: It's coming. Proceed, Senator Rice, and we'll come back to the document.

Senator RICE: You talk, Minister, of various engagement you've had, particularly with ASEAN. The department has said that we're working with like-minded countries on this. The ACFID report compares Australia's lack of sanctions with the sanctions imposed by the US, the UK, Canada and the EU. You'd describe the US as 'like-minded', wouldn't you?

Senator Payne: All of those entities—broadly speaking, yes.

Senator RICE: Do you think that it's credible that our position is so divergent with the position that the US, the UK, Canada and the EU have taken? They're all like-minded countries to us. Are we at risk of undermining a coordinated global approach on this issue, which is what is being called for? Particularly I know that the US special rapporteur has been calling very strongly for a coordinated global approach.

Senator Payne: No countries in our region have imposed sanctions. They are also important partners and important counterparts on these very, very difficult issues in Myanmar. The decisions that the government has taken around maintaining our military arms embargo, ceasing our Defence Cooperation Program, and diverting our development assistance so that it does not go through the regime but is delivered by key partners, such as the World Food Program, Save the Children and there's a third organisation that, off the top of my head, I can't recall—they are decisions which are in response to the actions of the regime and the coup. We are very focused on our support for ASEAN efforts and on providing ASEAN with the support it needs to de-escalate the situation. The ASEAN Leaders' Meeting that was held on 24 April was a pivotal meeting in my view, and in Australia's view—a meeting which came to a point where it was able to deliver those five points of consensus and also the chair's statement from Brunei. The five points of consensus are to be implemented with the support of the ASEAN leaders, including the appointment of a special envoy. I note that my counterpart, Foreign Minister Marsudi, has pursued that in public commentary just in the last day or so. In terms of access for the special envoy, I'm just trying to find the points—sorry, wrong page. Sorry, Senator.

Senator RICE: Can I come back to ASEAN? I do want to cover the ASEAN meeting and the ASEAN five point measures that were stipulated, but, before going there, I want to ask: are you aware of the letter that was sent to you by 390 civil society organisations in Myanmar calling for Australia to impose sanctions?

Senator Payne: Yes, I am aware.

Senator RICE: Would you agree that those 390 civil society organisations in Myanmar who are suffering and who are being shot at by junta forces do have a fair understanding of what the situation on the ground is?

Senator Payne: Sorry, I missed the last part of your question, Senator.

Senator RICE: I was asking whether those 390 civil society organisations would actually have a fair understanding of what the situation on the ground is—hence, that would inform their call for Australia to impose sanctions.

Senator Payne: I certainly respect the perspective that those organisations bring, but Australia must make our decisions based on a range of factors. We respect the decisions of those of our partners who have determined to apply further sanctions, but the consideration of whether we impose sanctions involves a detailed assessment of what's in our national interest at any given time and the circumstances in our region and on the ground.

Senator RICE: So you're basically saying that we know better than those 390 civil society organisations on the ground?

Senator Payne: I'm absolutely not saying that, Senator, and I really would prefer you not to put words in my mouth.

Senator RICE: Have you replied to that letter? I would like to table the letter, as well.

Senator Payne: I understand that a reply is in preparation. I don't want you to put words in my mouth, Senator, because that's not what I said and it's not what I think. You would appreciate that I also take advice—in fact, I would hope you would think I would take advice—from our post in Yangon and the officials that we have on the ground there as well.

Senator RICE: We've got 390 civil society organisations. We've got the US, the UK, the EU and Canada applying sanctions. Those 390 civil society organisations have asked you for some clear concrete actions to impose sanctions on the junta leaders, on military conglomerates and on state owned enterprises, to pressure Adani Ports to stop financing the Myanmar military, to support calls for a global arms embargo and to join action at the International Court of Justice to hold the Myanmar military accountable for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. To me, those calls are incredibly strong, given that they are the people who are being shot at and are being attacked on the ground by the junta. But you, at this stage, essentially aren't listening to them.

Senator Payne: That's not correct, Senator. Again, please don't put words in my mouth. We are listening to all of those stakeholders and all of their views. I respect those views, and we expect my post to engage with those representatives of civil society, as they do, and to provide me with further advice on that, which they do.

Senator RICE: They literally say, 'We are part of the masses risking our lives to oppose the military's criminal junta.' I look forward to seeing how you reply to them because I think the current situation is extraordinarily disappointing and really quite dismissive of the calls from a huge range of civil society organisations and as was reflected in hearings that we have had here as well.

Senator Payne: Senator, I absolutely disagree with you that this is dismissive. This is one aspect of potential responses and actions on this matter. In terms of other engagement, whether it is the shifting of our development assistance to ensure that that is shifted away from the regime and not delivered through that process, the cessation of the Defence Cooperation Program, the support we have committed to the humanitarian agency, AHA—$5 million of humanitarian funding through that process—and the comprehensive engagement that we have with ASEAN leadership and leaders and with our ASEAN partners, I reject your description of our actions in that way. Sanctions are one aspect of a potential response; they are not everything. But I respect the views of those who suggest that they believe they should be imposed.

Senator RICE: Will the government take any concrete steps if Myanmar doesn't implement the five point measures stipulated by ASEAN? What's the government's threshold for Myanmar failing to deliver on the five point consensus, given the indication of the military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, that they would only consider the points?

Senator Payne: This is a process that ASEAN is undertaking. The points that I couldn't put my hand on earlier include the immediate cessation of violence, a dialogue amongst all parties concerned, the special envoy of which I spoke, ASEAN's provision of humanitarian assistance through the AHA Centre and a visit by the special envoy and delegation. We strongly support those five points of consensus, and we will continue to work closely with the ASEAN chair and with Brunei. As I said, I was engaged in discussions with the Brunei foreign minister again this week on these matters. I'm not going to speculate on thresholds and hypotheticals, though.

Senator RICE: What contact has the government had with the national unity government?

Senator Payne: I might ask Mr Jadwat to respond to that.

Mr Jadwat : We have had officials-level dialogue with the national unity government. In fact, just yesterday, I spoke with a representative of the national unity government and so has the head of our Myanmar task force, so there have been at least three occasions that we have had contact, and we've undertaken to have further contact in coming weeks and months.

Senator RICE: Can you tell me just briefly, and perhaps take the details on notice, about the humanitarian funding support that has actually been able to be delivered?

Mr Jadwat : In terms of the humanitarian funding support, as the minister said, we've redirected our development program to focus on those who are most needy and those who are most vulnerable. As the minister said, in terms of that funding, $11½ million has been identified to be redirected: $4½ million for food assistance through the World Food Program, $3 million to support the UN population fund's work on sexual and reproductive health care and $4 million to support a Save The Children-led Myanmar education consortium which supports nongovernment education providers to deliver education services to marginalised children.

Senator RICE: Has this support actually reached the ground?

Mr Jadwat : My understanding is all of that work is ongoing at the moment.

Senator RICE: When you say 'ongoing', has it started?

Mr Jadwat : Yes, absolutely.

Senator RICE: So there is some support. You're saying that the full level has not been rolled out?

Mr Jadwat : There are difficulties on the ground in terms of the curfews and other restrictions on peoples' movements because of the outcome of the coup, but our embassy staff, our development team, are working with trusted partners on the ground to deliver these programs. My understanding is that they are working very hard to do that and they are making progress.

Senator RICE: Has the government issued any business advice to Australian companies investing in Myanmar, advising them to review their investments?

Mr Jadwat : In terms of business advice, Austrade has now closed its office in Yangon. But, prior to that, my understanding is that they had provided advice. A lot of it is based on consular and travel related issues but also they provided advice about business risk and about the consequences of the coup. I think our team there have been diligent about explaining to them, and of course businesses make their own decisions about their own particular circumstances, but I think we have provided advice to them.

Senator RICE: Sorry, I should have been more specific. What I want to know is business advice as to whether those investments are directly or indirectly profiting the junta?

Mr Jadwat : I'd have to take that on notice in terms of the exact, specific advice that Austrade may or may not have been given. I don't have that information on me.

Senator RICE: Do you think that's an important advice that businesses should be issued, whether you have or haven't done that so far?

Senator Payne: We certainly have engaged with business, and I know I have given evidence here before in relation to, for example, Woodside, but there may be more that Mr Jadwat can add on notice.

Senator RICE: Has the government had any ongoing discussions with the junta in recent times?

Mr Jadwat : The last direct contact, I understand, was on 22 February, when Vice Chief of the Defence Force spoke to the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Tatmadaw, and that was specifically related to our efforts to secure the release of Professor Sean Turnell. As far as I know that was the last official contact with a direct member of the military regime.

Senator RICE: I want to move onto China.

CHAIR: Before you do, Senator, have the officials had the opportunity to look at the excerpts from the report prepared by the Australian Council for International Development? Are they appropriate to be tabled? They are so tabled. We move onto China.

Senator RICE: The Australian Ambassador to China, in a video interview with the University of Tasmania on 14 May, said that the suspension of the strategic economic dialogue does 'send a signal throughout the China system that China is putting Australia in the naughty corner, so to speak, and others can follow suit.' He also seemed to indicate that other levels of government or businesses within China were less likely to interact with Australian entities unless the Australian government capitulates on key issues at a national level. What do you take 'sends a signal' throughout the China system to mean?

Ms Lawson : When the Chinese government suspended the strategic economic dialogue, they explicitly said that it was in response to Australia's attitude to cooperation with China. So the signal is that they would allow a further cooling in the relationship by entities within China who are dealing with Australian counterparts.

Senator RICE: What do you understand the 'others can follow suit' to be then?

Ms Lawson : The others who would follow suit would be those working in the Chinese bureaucracy and Chinese provinces and the various different local governments and potentially others.

Senator RICE: So it's fair to say then that we could expect a further deterioration in person-to-person and business-to-business interactions with China?

Ms Lawson : It is possible. I think it's important to note that we have conducted quite extensive outreach to business to highlight the increased risk of the China market, of doing business in China. Of course it will remain an important market—its economy is growing very quickly—and business will continue to want to do business with Chinese counterparts. Our point is that the risk has increased and business would do well to continue to expand their markets to other opportunities, and DFAT stands ready to support that effort.

Senator RICE: Moving on to human rights issues, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's budget has increased. Will the human rights position at the Australian embassy in Beijing be re-established?

Ms Adamson : As I've explained at previous hearings, we've continued to provide coverage of human rights issues through our embassy in Beijing. The decision to withdraw a position was not in fact specific to those responsibilities. It's a large embassy, and those duties have been reallocated and given the priority that they—in my view and in the government's view—should have.

Senator RICE: But there's not a specific human rights position?

Ms Adamson : The duties are allocated across the embassy, including in light of the experience that colleagues have. But let me assure you that there has been no diminution whatsoever in our coverage of human rights issues in China.

Senator RICE: Moving on to Xinjiang, what efforts is the government making to ensure imports from China are not being produced by forced labour in Xinjiang?

Ms Lawson : As I mentioned just now, we do extensive outreach to business, and during that business outreach we talk to business about the risks of having forced labour from Xinjiang in their supply chains. Of course, businesses have obligations under the Modern Slavery Act to conduct that due diligence. We will draw on all the available information that we have in order to help raise business awareness.

Senator RICE: Are you helping businesses to determine whether they are in fact using forced labour?

Ms Lawson : Certainly where we talk to businesses we point out the risks, drawing on the available information that we have, from a range of different sources. Sometimes companies will also approach us to ask us for advice, and we will always speak to any businesses that approach us, as well as reaching out to as many as possible ourselves.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, would you mind if asked a follow-on question?

Senator RICE: Sure.

CHAIR: Ms Lawson, are you able to tell us the companies that actually seek advice from you?

Ms Lawson : I can take it on notice, but I would be hesitant in releasing commercial-in-confidence information.

CHAIR: I can understand that, but some companies may wish not to know—

Ms Lawson : That is correct, and I think their preference would probably be for me not to provide that information.

CHAIR: Yes, but some companies may wish not to know what's going on, so that they can continue selling their BMW solar panels and whatever else, according to the allegations around the world as to forced labour.

Ms Lawson : We haven't encountered any of those kinds of attitudes, but I can say that we are reaching out as far as we possibly can, including on solar panels.

Senator RICE: Are you confident that the information you have and the information that businesses can gain does in fact enable them to determine whether their businesses are benefitting from forced labour?

Ms Lawson : Our sense is that the businesses we talk to are quite alert to the risks.

Senator RICE: But my question goes to the level of information and whether in fact they do have sufficient information to determine whether their businesses are using forced labour.

Ms Lawson : Of course, businesses can only draw on the information that's available to them. You would have seen the public reporting and a range of credible reports, which we think we should take seriously. Businesses will also have their own contacts and information. Those companies we have spoken to in detail certainly do have strong concerns and are looking at ways to make sure that their supply chains are free of any risk of forced labour.

Senator RICE: Of the Australian businesses that are operating in China and potentially could be benefitting from forced labour in Xinjiang, how many reach out to you? Is it a small proportion, or most of them?

Ms Lawson : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator RICE: Thank you. What discussions have occurred in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade regarding labelling China's treatment of Uighur people in Xinjiang as crimes against humanity and/or genocide?

Ms Lawson : Our position remains that determinations of genocide are a matter for the appropriate international courts. That doesn't mean that we don't take the situation in Xinjiang extremely seriously. We do believe there are credible reports of extremely egregious human rights abuses. We have raised our concerns at every able opportunity at the last eight Human Rights Council sessions. The minister has personally raised it, when she could, with her counterpart. We raise it at every opportunity at the working level, both in Beijing and in Canberra. But the determination of genocide, as I say, is a matter for international courts.

Senator RICE: What engagement is DFAT having to advocate for an international investigation, say a UN investigation, of the Chinese government's human rights crimes in Xinjiang in order to determine whether or not they fit the description of genocide?

Senator Payne: I met with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in Geneva on 7 May to discuss those issues and the potential for her to undertake a visit that gives her and her team urgent, unfettered and meaningful access to Xinjiang for that purpose.

Senator RICE: What actions is the government taking to protect the rights of Australian citizens, and their families, who are trapped or arbitrarily detained in or otherwise denied the right to leave Xinjiang?

Ms Lawson : You mean for individuals who are related to Australian citizens?

Senator RICE: Yes. For example, there is the Australian permanent resident—

Senator Payne: The senator said 'Australian citizens'.

Ms Lawson : Where we raise concerns about the relatives of Australian citizens, we raise them bilaterally with the Chinese authorities.

Senator RICE: Have you compiled a list of all Australian citizens and permanent residents and their relatives who have been prevented from leaving Xinjiang?

Ms Lawson : We do not have any Australian citizens in Xinjiang at this time. That is my understanding, but I'll check that with my consular colleagues. We do not have any rights to consular access for noncitizens, so we wouldn't have a full list of every single relative of Australian citizens within Xinjiang.

Senator RICE: In terms of permanent residents, you're saying you don't have the rights to provide consular assistance. In particular, there's the Australian permanent resident Mirzat Taher, who was imprisoned in Xinjiang and recently given a 25-year sentence. What support has the government been able to give him?

Ms Lawson : I don't want to go into details, but I can confirm that we have met with his relatives and are discussing the situation with his relatives.

Senator RICE: What discussions have been had with the Chinese government to advocate for those people—in general—to be able to return to Australia?

Ms Lawson : Noting that we don't have consular access, the key measure that we have is really just to raise our concerns, ask for information and ask for those people to be able to be reunited with their families. We have found that the Chinese government has been responsive in these kinds of cases in the past, but that's all I can say.

Senator RICE: Is the government working with other governments whose citizens are also wrongfully detained in China?

Senator Payne: More broadly than Xinjiang, you're suggesting?

Senator RICE: Yes.

Senator Payne: Yes, we are.

Senator RICE: What type of work are you doing with other governments?

Senator Payne: It's not limited to detention issues in China at all. It's broader than that. In terms of arbitrary detention, Australia has been a strong supporter of work in that area, including with Canada, particularly on the declaration on arbitrary detention, which was brought together at the end of last year. It is something that I have been discussing most recently with my UK colleague, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Dominic Raab, in terms of aspects of that declaration, and also with the new Canadian foreign minister, Marc Garneau. These are issues for a number of nations. Canada, Australia, Sweden, the UK and others have come together. Ultimately that declaration on arbitrary detention was signed by 24 states. It is a matter of concern where detention is being used as a political tool in a number of nations.

Senator RICE: What efforts has the government made to challenge the Chinese government's restrictions on Tibetans' political activities and their peaceful expression of cultural and religious identity? Tibetans are being subjected to persecution, torture, imprisonment and extrajudicial killings.

Ms Lawson : We are deeply concerned about the human rights situation in Tibet. You talked about detentions of Tibetans for the peaceful expression of their political views, and restrictions on their travel, and also we're concerned about restrictions on cultural rights and heritage. The minister has in fact raised her concerns about freedom of religious belief in the past with her counterpart, State Councilor Wang Yi. Of course, they haven't met for some time, but she has taken every available opportunity to raise these concerns directly, and we raised our concerns about the situation in Tibet most recently in March this year with the Chinese authorities.

Senator Payne: Can I just clarify, Senator, I was correct the first time in the statement on arbitrary detention. That was over 60 states. It was a Human Rights Council statement late last year on arbitrary detention, which had 34 states signed on. There is broad international interest and concern on these issues.

CHAIR: Minister, you only go wrong when you doubt yourself!

Senator Payne: This is true, Eric! This is true.

Senator RICE: Regarding Tibet, Minister, Ms Lawson just said you have made representations on Tibet. How have you felt those representations have been received? Can you tell me what they are and, yes, whether they've been effective.

Senator Payne: Ms Lawson has detailed those representations, and we continue to make those. In terms of how they are received, they are acknowledged—and Australia continues to prosecute those issues.

Ms Lawson : Senator, I think it is important for us to keep raising these concerns, even if we don't see a quick and immediate response from the Chinese authorities. In the case of Xinjiang, we don't see the situation getting better quickly, but we do think that the Chinese government has been forced to acknowledge the existence of the camps. In the case of Xinjiang, there is a reputational cost that China has to deal with, and so we do think it's important to keep raising these issues and to keep urging things like visits, which would provide access, for example, to the Human Rights Commissioner. But, in the case of Tibet, we've also urged things like parliamentary visits in order to have that kind of access. So we continue to press for these kinds of visits.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, one last question. We've been very generous.

Senator Payne: Let me just also say, though, Senator, there are a number of mechanisms, including statements which we have been a part of in the United Nations, including one in October of last year, which had a focus on Tibet, on Xinjiang and on Hong Kong, of which Australia was a partner as well.

Senator RICE: Are we getting anywhere with representations to the Chinese government for independent human rights observers? It seems to me the absolute bottom line that China allow independent human rights observers into both Xianjiang and Tibet, and elsewhere.

Ms Lawson : My understanding is the Chinese government has been considering a visit by the UN Human Rights Commissioner. Of course, China's public line is often that they welcome people who have an objective view of the situation in those places. But we just need to keep requesting, because we need that meaningful, unfettered access, and, if the visit is not meaningful, then that could be also quite unhelpful—to have a visit where there wasn't the right kind of access. So it's important that the right conditions are in place for that visit so that it has a positive outcome that we can use to gain credible evidence.

Senator Payne: And that was part of my engagement with the high commissioner, Senator. I last met with the high commissioner in person here in Australia, but it was an opportunity in Geneva to actually indicate Australia support for such a visit, and I know that there is much broader support from other like-mindeds in a similar way for such a visit.

Senator RICE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Ayres.

Senator AYRES: I have some follow-up questions for Ms Wood on the repatriation flights. I listened with interest to but didn't want to interrupt the line of questioning that Senator Wong had for you on repatriation flights, in particular from India. But I was reflecting on the exchange that you had with Senator Wong about the terminology that the department is using to describe children who are separated from their parents in India. I did think that it was an odd exchange because, firstly, it's odd to have an argument about the terminology. This government has a slightly Orwellian tendency to try and describe things in a particularly neutral kind of way that obviates the moral seriousness of the position of, in this case, children isolated from their parents in India. It was also, I thought, common language.

I did go and have a look because we did refer to it in a line of questions in the COVID inquiry, which has been ongoing. It did have you, Ms Wood, and High Commissioner O'Farrell in for a discussion earlier this month. When you go through the Hansard of that discussion, Senator Keneally asks you and High Commissioner O'Farrell some questions about unaccompanied minors. Ms Wood, you say:

I don't have it broken down showing unaccompanied minors who are registered.

High Commissioner O'Farrell says:

I can add that, since December last year, we've assisted 20 unaccompanied minors to return to Australia.

Senator Keneally asks another question. You say:

We don't uplift unaccompanied minors on their own on those flights … we don't transport unaccompanied minors on those facilitated flights.

Senator Keneally asks another question. High Commissioner O'Farrell says:

… an unaccompanied child in India … Qantas does not take unaccompanied minors.

It goes on. High Commissioner O'Farrell uses the same language repeatedly, and so do you. That was 3½ weeks ago. I listened to what the secretary said, that the department doesn't use that language of 'unaccompanied minors' internally. When did it change? It must have been some time over the last 3½ weeks.

Ms Wood : Firstly, I want to restate our commitment to reuniting children with parents, and we work daily to achieve that objective. In terms of the terminology, when High Commissioner O'Farrell talks about unaccompanied children, it is true that other airlines will transport minors absent an adult or a guardian with them, and at that time they are unaccompanied children. For the government's facilitated commercial flights, we work with families when they contact us, when we're aware of children who are wishing to return to Australia, but they're minors—

Senator AYRES: I'm sorry, but this exchange isn't only in relation to how airlines describe these people. It's very plain in there. I'm happy to arrange for it to be tabled and come back to this later, but the language that is clearly used in relation to describing children separated from their parents in India is 'unaccompanied minors'. I understand that there's a change in the way that the department describes these children. I just want to know when that change happened, and then I have some follow-up questions about how that change happened.

Ms Adamson : Senator, throughout all of this, for as long as it has been going on, and I think back to Wuhan in the beginning, we've not used that term in the generic sense, I suppose, in which it has been used externally. We've had an understanding of the situation of these children, and we've used it more strictly in terms of the 'on the plane' bit. In Australia, you've got children with a 'UM' on them when they're unaccompanied minors on a plane. These children, as Ms Wood explained, are often part of extended families in wide-ranging family circumstances. I was not present at that previous hearing. On the basis of the Hansard extract that you've read out, I can see my colleagues were engaging with the question and using the language of the questioner, but that is not language that we've used in the department throughout, and, in that sense, there has been no change.

Senator AYRES: So the change on that terminology has been the extent to which officers from the department, like Ms Wood, are in public exchanges? The terminology has dropped out from the public exchange—

Ms Adamson : We think it's misleading terminology.

Senator AYRES: I hear your evidence that, internally, in the department, you've chosen to use a different kind of language. You say that has been happening all the way through, even when dealing with children separated from their parents in Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic. I accept that. But there has been a change, hasn't there? When Ms Wood engaged in that exchange, it had been quite common up until that point—not just for officials of the department, but for people more broadly—to use that terminology. When did the change in terminology being used in public exchanges happen?

Ms Adamson : I'll let Ms Wood answer, as she was at the table, but the responses to the questions at that hearing that day used the language of the questioners. From the department's point of view that language is misleading, and, as a result of that hearing and the way we would describe it in responses now, we want to be very clear about what the situation is. That explains why we could see the effect of that, if you like. We think it is much better to use terminology that, from our perspective, is accurate in terms of the work that we are doing with individual families, recognising that these children are not living alone in India. They are being supported within families and decisions are made in broader, extended families about where children should be. Now, that does not detract at all from our willingness—I shouldn't just say 'willingness'—and the steely determination on the part of our colleagues in India to bring those children to the place where their parents want them to be to reunite with them. It's just that that terminology in Australia has a particular resonance and meaning, which relates much more to children on Qantas or Virgin planes—

Senator AYRES: I accept that. I'm not sure that's how people in Australia—I think they are sophisticated enough to understand that unaccompanied minors in India are largely staying with their families, but they also know that they are separated from their parents. So you're saying that occasion that I just happened to be watching was the last time? Was there a meeting to discuss the language?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator AYRES: Was it raised with you about the language? Did the minister's office raise it with you?

Ms Adamson : It was not raised with me. We could see the impact that language had, and we have since determined that we should be accurate, from our perspective, about the language that we use. It is my commentary at this point—I am going to hand to Ms Wood—that on that day both High Commissioner O'Farrell and Ms Wood engaged with the questioners and it's a very natural thing, when someone asks you a question in that language, to answer in that language. Since then, we have wanted to ensure that that language is not misunderstood. Either way it can be misunderstood. It's why it's never a simple conversation, and it shouldn't be either, given the importance of it.

Senator AYRES: So following that appearance, Ms Wood, who raised these issues with you about changing the language?

Ms Wood : I would like to echo what the secretary has said. In the exchange that you have quoted, I reflected the language that was being used in that exchange. I should also point out that at the end of that hearing, when I was asked for a specific number, I quoted exactly how it's registered in our system, which was 'minors under the age of 18 not registered as part of a broader family group'.

Senator AYRES: I'm not critical of you here, Ms Wood. What I want to understand is—

Ms Wood : So I don't think there has been a change; I think we've just tried, since then, to be quite accurate about what we're talking about.

Senator AYRES: who spoke to you, following that hearing, to say, 'We need to change or sharpen up or become more precise with the language that we're using.' Was that—

Ms Wood : With respect, there wasn't a meeting where we decided we had to change the language. In the course of that hearing, I wasn't as accurate as I could have been in reflecting the way the questions were put to me, but that's why we wanted to make sure that we're clear about it now.

Senator AYRES: Did the minister's office raise it with you, following the hearing?

Ms Wood : They did not.

Senator AYRES: Did you have any discussions with the minister's office about that?

Ms Wood : I did not.

Senator AYRES: Okay. Thanks, Chair.

Senator ABETZ: Senator Kitching.

Senator KITCHING: Is there an increase in the number of locally engaged staff in New Delhi?

Senator Payne: I will ask Mr Cowan to come back.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

Mr Cowan : To my knowledge, no.

Senator KITCHING: Has there been an increase in the number of staff, in toto, in the New Delhi mission, not just the locally engaged staff?

Mr Cowan : In broad terms, no, but we could take on notice a question about staff movements. In responding to the COVID crisis we have to move staff to and fro. There are downtime arrangements. There are short-term missions and so on. So the numbers will fluctuate a little but, in broad terms, the staffing complement is not materially different.

Senator KITCHING: I'm just wondering because of the COVID crisis there, and trying to repatriate Australians, and whether there was an increase in the staff in order to deal with that issue.

Ms Adamson : There's certainly been a shift of responsibilities. I would venture to say that there is no-one locally engaged or A based, in our overseas network, who is not at some time or another working on the consular issue and the high priority we give to bringing Australians home.

Senator KITCHING: When the bubble in the hotel is happening, who's paying for the hotel rooms? Is that part of the agreement with Qantas?

Ms Wood : It is.

Senator KITCHING: Is the government paying for those hotel rooms or is Qantas? Are you covering off Qantas' costs?

Ms Wood : We have a contract with Qantas and under that they deliver the arrangements, including the hotel, meals et cetera.

Senator KITCHING: Is it possible to get a breakdown of the cost of that, how much the hotel rooms are costing?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: I assume there's a cost that passengers—

Ms Wood : The pre-departure arrangements, which include the stay in the hotel and the testing, are covered as part of being uplifted by Qantas on a facilitated commercial flight.

Senator WONG: So the taxpayer's paying for it.

Ms Wood : Qantas is technically paying for it.

Senator WONG: I'm sure they're not paying for it out of the goodness of their heart. I suspect the cost is included in the cost of the contract.

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: If they do the test in order to be on the flight but they test positive, do they just go back to the hotel room for 14 days and then try again?

Ms Wood : It's somewhat case by case. In general, if you test positive then you depart the hotel and return to your home. You need to wait 14 days in isolation until we are able to work with you to get you on the next available flight.

Senator KITCHING: What if you don't have a home? Let's say you pack up everything and come to Delhi to come back to Australia. Where do you go? Is that up to you to organise that?

Ms Wood : I'm reluctant to speak hypothetically, but I know that when there have been cases where passengers have tested positive they have either returned to their homes or been assisted by our colleagues at the high commission in New Delhi with information about hotels, where they are able to stay in New Delhi, because they can't stay in the bubble hotel once they've tested positive.

Senator KITCHING: Okay, thank you.

Senator WONG: Which one do you want to come back on first, Ms Wood? There was cost and then there were the pre-flight procedures.

Ms Wood : The costs my colleagues are working on, on notice.

Senator WONG: No, I'd like it in these two days; it can't be that hard.

Ms Wood : Absolutely. That's being worked on as we speak.

Senator WONG: Sorry, yes, on notice.

Ms Adamson : There's a difference. They're using it—

Senator WONG: 'We're using it colloquially; we are not telling you, Wong, for ages—maybe never.'

Ms Adamson : We're getting back to you as quickly as possible.

Senator WONG: That's what 'on notice' usually means!

Ms Adamson : Not in DFAT.

Senator Payne: Sometimes you ask them to take them on notice.

Senator WONG: Yes, because I'm being kind or reasonable.

Ms Wood : I'm endeavouring to make sure we come back to you with an answer because the arrangements for these eight flights were a different contractual arrangement because of the hotel and the testing and so on—

Senator WONG: Okay. So you will come back on that. Then we were going to the pre-flight testing regime. Do you want to tell me about that?

Ms Wood : There are two elements.

Senator WONG: The negative PCR test and then the bespoke arrangement in the bubble. Yes, we heard that before.

Ms Wood : And the rapid antigen test.

Senator WONG: Yes, which includes the antigen test. What is it—six hours prior?

Ms Adamson : Eight hours prior to boarding. That's the Australian government requirement. How it's delivered and implemented is determined by Qantas.

Senator WONG: Where is this requirement included? Is it in the contract? Is it in public health advice? Where are those two requirements set out?

Ms Wood : The two requirements, the PCR test and the rapid antigen test, are from the Australian government.

Senator WONG: I understand that. Where are they set out? Where are the words on a document, a piece of paper, a website or a contract that identify these as a requirement?

Ms Wood : I will come back to you on that.

Senator WONG: So that's a matter for Qantas to arrange?

Ms Wood : The implementation is a matter for Qantas.

Senator WONG: In the implementation was there anything provided by the government to Qantas either in the context of the contract or in other guidance as to the method of implementation?

Ms Wood : That is up to Qantas.

Senator WONG: So is the answer no?

Ms Wood : Yes, the answer is no.

Senator WONG: Thank you. So therefore you don't make any recommendations about which providers to use for the purposes of pre-flight testing?

Ms Wood : That's right.

Senator WONG: So you just leave it to Qantas?

Ms Wood : I would be hesitant to say I leave it to Qantas, given that—

Senator WONG: You do. You said the implementation is a matter for them. There's no guidance—

Ms Wood : Yes, but we have been confident in the arrangements Qantas has put in place.

Senator WONG: You have been confident in the arrangements Qantas has put in place?

Senator Payne: They are doing it around the world.

Senator WONG: On the first repatriation flight on 15 May we had a situation where 70 of those scheduled to fly were not able to because they returned a positive test result or were a close contact. Qantas's primary provider for pre-flight testing is whom? Do you know?

Ms Wood : I don't have that information with me.

Senator WONG: So nobody from government engages in how Qantas implements this? You just tell them they've got to do it?

Senator Payne: Qantas is doing this around the world.

Senator WONG: That's not the question.

Senator Payne: It is actually in response to your question.

Senator WONG: It's not responsive.

Senator Payne: Qantas is doing this around the world. Australia also has an AUSMAT deployment in New Delhi which is providing expert public health support to assist with those predeparture arrangements for passengers seeking to return to Australia. My understanding is the doctor arrived in New Delhi perhaps a day or so after the recommencement of flights. It was as soon as we could get him there. He has been on the ground there since then.

Senator WONG: Sorry, hazmat team?

Senator Payne: AUSMAT, Australian medical assistance team.

Senator WONG: So we have an AUSMAT team on the ground—

Senator Payne: A member of—

Senator WONG: A member on the ground? So one person?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: And they arrived after the first flight post the ban being lifted?

Senator Payne: That's right. That's the logistics of that.

Senator WONG: She or he?

Senator Payne: He.

Senator WONG: Does he have a role in looking at Qantas's implementation of the Australian government's requirements?

Ms Wood : In this particular circumstance, given the situation in India and our collective objective in having as many passengers able to get on the plane as possible and come back to Australia, we and Qantas worked with this public health expert to revise the arrangements to make sure they were as robust as possible.

Senator WONG: When?

Ms Wood : When he arrived in India.

Senator WONG: So your evidence earlier that the implementation is a matter for Qantas you would update to say except that in relation to India the Australian medical professional from AUSMAT on the ground is working with Qantas to ensure the implementation is appropriate?

Ms Wood : To provide an additional layer of assurance.

Senator Payne: And with passengers, Senator, as I understand it.

Senator WONG: Okay, so the additional layer of assurance. When did he arrive?

Senator Payne: My understanding is two days after the pause was lifted.

Senator WONG: On the 17th?

Senator Payne: Yes, which was a function of the pause.

Senator WONG: Yes, I'm not—I'm just asking the date.

Senator Payne: Yes, I think it was two days after, but I'll correct that if it's not the case.

Senator WONG: When was it decided that we would do that? When was it decided to send the AUSMAT medical officer over?

Ms Wood : It was following the first flight.

Senator WONG: Because the first flight had so many problems.

Ms Wood : The decision was made after the first flight.

Senator WONG: Because the first flight had so many problems, yes?

Senator Payne: I understand it was a recommendation from the Chief Medical Officer.

Senator WONG: I note that Ms Wood nodded, but didn't say anything so it won't be picked up by Hansard. Was anyone at the table aware, or anyone reporting to anyone at the table aware, that Qantas's primary provider for preflight testing is Neuberg Diagnostics? Are you aware of that?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: Were you aware that they were subcontracting the testing for the purpose of the first flight to CRL Diagnostics?

Ms Wood : We weren't aware because, as we discussed previously, it was Qantas's responsibility to implement that.

Senator WONG: When were you aware?

Ms Wood : I don't have a time line in front of me.

Senator WONG: Was it after it became public?

Ms Wood : That is my recollection.

Senator WONG: When were you aware that CRL had had its accreditation suspended?

Ms Wood : Senator, I don't have that time line in front of me. I'm aware of the media reporting that it had had its accreditation suspended, but I do not have in front of me the information about the reason for that suspension.

Senator WONG: I didn't ask you that; I asked when you were aware.

Ms Wood : I became aware during the media reports.

Senator WONG: Okay—you were only aware as a result of the media reports. How many of the passengers who tested positive fell into a category described as low or weak viral load?

Ms Wood : Senator, I don't have the details of those tests which were taken for the first flight.

Senator WONG: Passengers also complained publicly that the results showed inaccurate details, such as the wrong testing time, incorrect age, incorrect sex. Was that a concern to the department?

Ms Wood : We were aware of comments which were made in the media following those passengers being unable to board the first flight. The public health experts then travelled to New Delhi to have a look at the whole predeparture arrangements and provide an additional layer of assurance.

Senator WONG: But the government was aware of these concerns. I will come to what you did about it, but public reports are that 13 of the passengers who were denied boarding after their initial test showed a low viral load, and they have since provided negative COVID-19 reports after independent testing. Have you been in contact with passengers or others from that flight who have independent negative results which were contrary to the results that the unaccredited laboratory gave?

Ms Wood : Senator, we were in touch with every passenger who didn't board that first flight to discuss the situation and make arrangements for them to travel subsequently to Australia.

Senator WONG: Have they all returned home now?

Ms Wood : I don't know how many of them have subsequently decided to board flights to Australia, but I could find that out for you.

Senator WONG: You see, this is the Orwellian thing. Maybe you don't mean to, but you and I both know it is not entirely a matter of choice. We have discussed the supply and demand issue. We have discussed the fact that, even on your own trajectory, fewer than 10 per cent will return in the flights thus far. We've discussed the fact that three flights sold out in minutes. So I don't understand why you insist on saying, in an answer to my question, 'those who have chosen to return'. It's not a choice for many people. It might be; I acknowledge that. Some people may choose not to. Can you please tell me—you can take it on notice or get advice—how many of those, the cohort of 13 who were denied boarding, who had a low viral load who have subsequently provided negative COVID test results have now returned home?

Ms Wood : I can take on notice, for the 70 who didn't board the first flight, whether they have been on subsequent flights.

Senator WONG: That's fine. I understand from media reports that this laboratory had complaints of, a track record of, inaccurate testing and is no longer accredited. Did the department request that Qantas arrange a retest for those Australians who had their test processed by this unaccredited laboratory?

Ms Wood : I would need to take on notice the procedure that was followed once we had a public health expert in New Delhi.

Senator WONG: Perhaps we could do it this way. So the flight is arranged—the 15th. It arrives on the 15th there?

Ms Wood : No. It arrived here on the 15th.

Senator WONG: So it's already there, prior to the pause?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: Or the ban. Then you signed the contract with Qantas for that and other flights in early May?

Ms Wood : Yes, exactly. That's right.

Senator WONG: That would be about right? How many did you sign at that time—up to eight? Or did you only do the three at that point?

Ms Wood : I don't have that information in front of me.

Senator WONG: How many flights in May were there in total? It was eight? I'm just wondering if the contractual arrangements you agreed—

Ms Wood : Up until today—today the eighth flight has landed in Adelaide.

Senator WONG: Yes. And I'm just trying to understand did you—is that one contract. You know how your evidence was 'rolling contracts'?

Ms Wood : I would need to check if it was one or two contracts, because we had arrangements with Howard Springs and then we had arrangements and arrangements with each state jurisdiction.

Senator WONG: You split it up by destination, is that right?

Ms Wood : I don't know if we did. I will check that for you.

Senator WONG: Okay. Flight there—leaves on the 15th. Correct? Is the first point at which you become aware of the—frankly—shemozzle around testing because of public reports?

Ms Wood : No. We were informed that there were 70 passengers who were unable to board that first flight.

Senator WONG: When were you informed?

Ms Wood : When we got the results. That's the reason; the test is done to allow time for us to be informed.

Senator WONG: Yes. So it was before it went public?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: What did you do as a consequence of that?

Ms Wood : It was part of our standard procedure, which has happened with other facilitated flights, that when passengers test positive, they and their close contacts are informed they are unable to take the flight. We followed our standard procedure.

Senator WONG: I'm just trying to get to the decision to send an AUSMAT person. Without me having to do this laboriously and having an explanation about all the other things you did—I just want to know that. Did that get escalated? Did government decide? Did Ms Adamson talk to the CMO? How does that all happen? Can you lay that out, please.

Ms Wood : As I said, it's standard and—on other flights we've had positives—

Senator WONG: It's not standard to have unaccredited laboratories getting people with—

Ms Wood : What caught our attention was the large number.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Ms Wood : Because there was a large number—we didn't know the reason for there being a large number and, because we are keen to bring back as many people as possible, we talked to the Chief Medical Officer, who suggested we could send a public health expert to have a look at the arrangements and ensure that we had the most robust system possible.

Senator WONG: Great. Who did that?

Ms Wood : Who did?

Senator WONG: Who did that? Who talked to the CMO?

Ms Wood : We had a conversation.

Senator WONG: Who is the 'we'?

Ms Wood : Okay. So—

Senator WONG: Is it you? Is it Secretary Adamson? Is there an—

Ms Wood : I was on a telephone call.

Senator WONG: Okay. Thank you.

Ms Wood : Once it became apparent we had this large group who tested positive—and their close contacts—we recognised this needed to be discussed to get to the bottom of it. I talked to colleagues. I can't tell you off the cuff, but—

Senator WONG: I'm just trying to work out—

Ms Wood : Prime Minister and Cabinet, Health, Infrastructure—

Senator WONG: Okay. DFAT speaks to the CMO as a consequence of the 70, which is a much larger proportion—it's a statistical aberration, so either lots more people were infected than we realised or something has gone wrong. You speak to the CMO, and he suggests sending an AUSMAT person. Is that the—

Ms Wood : That's correct.

Senator WONG: And that was as a consequence of the 70?

Ms Wood : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Did that occur before this became public?

Ms Wood : It all moved quite rapidly because the passengers were informed, of course, of their results.

Senator WONG: When was the minister informed about the problems with the Qantas flight?

Ms Wood : We stay in close contact with the minister's office on all the arrangements with the flights.

Senator WONG: So when was the minister informed about the problems with the first flight?

Senator Payne: I will check the record. My advisers and the department as, as Ms Wood said, are very regularly—constantly—in contact.

Senator WONG: Before it came public?

Senator Payne: That's my recollection but I'll check.

Ms Adamson : That's mine too. Instantly, we—

Senator WONG: Did you request that there was a CMO discussion? Or when did you aware of the CMO discussion?

Senator Payne: I was advised that those discussions were occurring across the department.

Senator WONG: You have used the phrase 'the most robust system possible' in answers to questions today, Ms Wood. Can you tell me why we didn't have the 'most robust system possible' before the first flight?

Ms Wood : The system itself is robust. What became clear in looking at it was that, as a consequence of the first flight, Qantas decided to change the laboratory that it was using.

Senator Payne: And, Senator, to be fair, if I may also observe briefly, the medical system, the health system, in India at the time was under the most significant strain.

Senator WONG: Of course.

Senator Payne: Very, very significant strain, so—

Senator WONG: But my point is that none of this is what you would describe as out of the bounds of possibility. What we have done is say to Qantas, 'You go away and do it'. We have given them no instructions or guidance. You've said, 'Well, they do it everywhere else in the world so it's fine'. Clearly it wasn't. Then we had to put an AUSMAT person in. I'm pleased you did that; that's a good thing. But for the 70 people—we don't know how many of them didn't get back—that was obviously a very traumatic event. You saw some of the responses from them and their families as a consequence of, frankly, an unaccredited laboratory being used. My point would be that this was not entirely unforeseeable. We know India's public health capacity and we now how stretched it is. Some things are not contracted out.

Ms Adamson : There's another element of this. As it was unfolding, as the news was coming through that passengers were testing positive—this was the resumption of the first flight—given the prevalence of COVID in India, given the previous test results or positivity rates coming into Howard Springs, one of the things we weren't sure about initially—our initial thought actually was that all of these people were COVID positive, and one of the thoughts in our minds were: were people aware that they were positive when they were coming to us? Were they feeling ill and nevertheless wanting to come back to Australia? All of those things—we had to sort of test a range of hypotheses. But what we were very keen to do was get to the bottom of it quickly so that we could maximise the number of people coming into Howard Springs and make use of that facility. Initially, I think the hypothesis was: 'My goodness, it's a very bad situation there. These people are positive and we need to put in place arrangements to ensure that they can properly be looked after, they can properly be tested and they can get on flights without infecting other people on flights.' It's very complex. And, I must say, having an AUSMAT qualified medical professional there has given us the reassurance we need, and you can see that things are now broadly working smoothly.

Senator WONG: The Australian newspaper reported, on 17 May, that Qantas 'did not seek advice from DFAT before contracting the company' and sources said 'they would have recommended using another firm'. Can anyone tell me where that came from? Was that from you? Was that from your office?

Ms Wood : No.

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: Because what it looks like is throwing Qantas under a bus.

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: Somebody from the government did that. It says, 'Sources say they would have recommended using another firm'. Did anybody actually tell people that?

Senator Payne: You assert that that's from the government.

Senator WONG: What?

Senator Payne: I don't have the article in front of me.

Senator WONG: 'Qantas did not seek advice from the Department of Foreign Affairs before contracting the company. Sources said they would have recommended using another firm.'

Senator Payne: I can't speak to sources in this case.

Senator WONG: No. I'm just wondering whether or not—it's not the case that you would have, is it?

Ms Wood : No. We have been working with Qantas ever since October last year. We have been working in close cooperation and it has been working well.

Senator WONG: You have engaged with all of the 70; is that what you have said?

Ms Wood : That's correct.

Senator WONG: And you can't tell me how many of them are back yet?

Ms Wood : I've taken that on notice.

Senator WONG: I come back to the hotel issue? After these Australians were removed from the first flight, public reports are that the passengers who tested positive were ordered to leave the hotel in New Delhi. Can you tell me: were they provided with any assistance to get home?

Ms Wood : When the passengers returned the positive tests, the hotel asked them to leave. Our high commission was in touch with those passengers to see if they required any assistance in identifying alternative accommodation in New Delhi or if they were planning to return to their homes. That's as much as I can tell you. I don't know how many stayed in New Delhi and how many went back to their homes, but, if you'd like me to find that out, I'll do my best.

Senator WONG: Is it your evidence that the high commission contacted every one of the 70 and offered them assistance to get home?

Ms Wood : We contacted every one of the 70 to see whether they required assistance. Some or many of them—I can't give you a number right now—made their own arrangements.

Senator WONG: Did we contemplate, particularly for those who'd come from a long way away, assisting them with finding at least short-term accommodation in New Delhi?

Ms Wood : I know there were some passengers who stayed in New Delhi, and we provided assistance. I will ask my colleagues to give me more detailed information about how many.

Senator WONG: We have an Australian who was travelling with his wife and two adult children and said they had to take a 350-kilometre, seven-hour taxi ride back to somewhere to stay as a consequence of the positive test. Is that something that you have any knowledge of?

Ms Wood : I don't.

Senator WONG: Do you think that's appropriate?

Ms Wood : I know there were a range of circumstances. Some stayed in New Delhi. Some returned to their homes. I don't know which ones we provided assistance to in that process and which ones did it themselves.

Senator WONG: When did you contact those who received positive results?

Ms Wood : My understanding is it was immediately. I could come back to you on the time frame.

Senator WONG: What support have they been offered?

Ms Wood : We asked in the first instance if there was anything we could provide them assistance with—if they needed alternative accommodation in New Delhi, if they needed advice about other places where they could stay or if they needed other assistance. We also provided them with information about the hardship program in case they required financial assistance to tide them over.

Senator WONG: A loan.

Ms Wood : The hardship program is both loans and grants. It depends on the circumstances of the applicant.

Senator WONG: Are you aware of whether or not any of those who've tested positive and remained in India have developed a serious illness?

Ms Wood : I'm not aware.

Senator WONG: Can you take that on notice?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: When was the department consulted on the decision by the Minister for Health and Aged Care to invoke the Biosecurity Act on 30 April to ban Australian citizens from returning home to Australia?

Ms Wood : I am aware that the department was consulted by Health on the morning of 30 April.

Senator WONG: On the morning of the 30th. At which level was that, Secretary Adamson?

Ms Adamson : It was at the level of deputy secretary.

Senator WONG: So who?

Ms Adamson : Deputy Secretary Sheehan.

Senator WONG: Was advised by whom?

Ms Adamson : I would have to check with him.

Senator WONG: Is the nature of the exchange consultation or advice? I'm inferring from the fact that it occurred on the day that it was being made that it wasn't particularly consultative.

Ms Adamson : I'm not sure whether or not he's listening, but my recollection is that we were advised of an intention.

Senator WONG: Had you been previously asked for advice about this possibility, this option?

Ms Adamson : I'll have to check that.

Senator WONG: Had you contemplated such an option before you were advised?

Ms Adamson : It was Mr Sheehan who was advised.

Senator WONG: Alright, but you became aware as secretary. Before you were advised of it, had you contemplated the option of a government banning its own citizens in this way?

Ms Adamson : Not specifically, but I do think I need to say that COVID has absolutely stretched our conception of what normal looks like or the measures that need to be taken by the government. So not at the specific level but at the general one, I suppose.

Senator WONG: Were you or, to your knowledge, anyone in your department aware, prior to the advice of 30 April, that the Minister for Health was contemplating banning citizens from returning?

Ms Adamson : I can't give a definitive no to that question because there was considerable discussion at senior levels of government about the appropriate response to an unprecedented situation.

Senator WONG: Were you aware that the government was considering it?

Ms Adamson : I was not aware, no.

Senator WONG: Were you aware, Minister?

Senator Payne: Sorry, what was the question?

Senator WONG: Were you aware of the ban of 30 April? Your department was first advised on the morning of 30 April, and the secretary's advice was that she was not aware before advice was given.

Senator Payne: That's correct; I was advised after the department advised my office.

Senator WONG: So you weren't advised by Minister Hunt's office? It went from DFAT to you?

Senator Payne: Not to the best of my recollection, but I'll check the record. I understand it to be—

Senator WONG: I gave you two options and then you said, 'Not to the best of my recollection.'

Senator Payne: I understand it to be a message from my office to me after the department was advised.

Senator WONG: So Mr Hunt didn't tell you?

Senator Payne: Not to the best of my recollection.

Senator WONG: And Mr Hunt's office didn't tell your office? You became aware because DFAT told your office?

Senator Payne: That's correct—as I understand it.

Senator WONG: Don't you think it would be better for someone as senior as yourself to be in the loop before he made that decision?

Senator Payne: There were a range of discussions that day, as I recall. There was a national cabinet meeting and there were discussions about these issues at national cabinet as well. The determination of the use of the Biosecurity Act has from time to time been discussed at the cabinet level—

Senator WONG: Not for this purpose.

Senator Payne: and we deal with the application of the Biosecurity Act, and have been since March last year, in relation to, for example, cruise ships.

Senator WONG: I know that's the government's line. But even Professor Kelly's own advice, in its own terms—and I put this to him directly—says this is unprecedented and has never been used in this way against an Australian citizen. So I understand that the act has been used for other means—I accept all that—but not in this way. All I'm asking is for you to explain to me why, given its nature, the Minister for Foreign Affairs was not part of the consideration of whether this was the right decision.

Senator Payne: As minister and as a department, we were part of the consideration of the need for a pause in terms of flights from India. There was lengthy and detailed discussion—of which we were part and I was part—about the impact that the large number of positive cases in quarantine was having on the capacity of, in particular, the Northern Territory health system and also other state and territory health systems at that time, which necessitated the pause. That was informed by a risk assessment for that, obviously, in terms of the health processes.

Senator WONG: Why are you so out of the loop on this?

Senator Payne: That's a ridiculous assertion.

Senator WONG: It is not.

Senator Payne: Yes it is, Senator.

Senator WONG: I will put it to you and you can refute it.

Senator Payne: I am.

Senator WONG: Let me finish putting it to you. This is the banning of Australian citizens returning to Australia. Leaving aside whether that was the way to go or what the public health response should be, it is an unprecedented decision. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is not even consulted before the decision is made—surely you should be.

Senator Payne: That's not correct.

Senator WONG: That's exactly what you just told me.

Senator Payne: No, it is not what I told you.

Senator WONG: You gave a lot of words about how they talk to you a lot but not a lot of words about—

CHAIR: The Hansard will disclose that which was said.

Senator Payne: In fact I told you, Senator Wong, that the decision was made at cabinet level, through the normal processes—which, as you would expect, the secretary and I were part of—

Senator WONG: She said she didn't know. The secretary—

Senator Payne: The decision to pause return flights from India—

Senator WONG: That is not my question.

CHAIR: Wait a minute. Can we have one at a time, please.

Senator WONG: That's not my question. You were answering a different question in order to not answer—

CHAIR: Restate your question, please, Senator Wong.

Senator Payne: If you don't like the words that I am using, that's a matter for you.

Senator WONG: I just don't think they're responsive.

Senator Payne: But they are my response to your question.

Senator WONG: Okay. The secretary has quite honestly answered, and she's also made, I think, a reasonable point: that COVID has stretched our concepts—'conceptions', I think she said—about what is within the realm of government decision. I accept all that.

Senator Payne: I'm not disagreeing either.

Senator WONG: But her evidence to this committee was that she was not aware that this was even in contemplation until the department was advised, and I am saying: were you aware that this was in contemplation before Minister Hunt made the decision, this particular use of the—

Senator Payne: The application of the Biosecurity Act was a matter which was determined by the risk assessment that was provided to the minister for health, which provided the advice that the Biosecurity Act should be invoked in relation to this matter.

Senator WONG: So the answer is no.

Senator Payne: The decision around pausing arrivals was most certainly a decision of the cabinet at the appropriate levels, which Ms Adamson and I were part of.

Senator WONG: Okay. But in the context—

CHAIR: Just for the record, I should let you know, Senator Wong, that I made a foolish promise to Senator Patrick to give him 15 minutes at 12.15, before lunch.

Senator WONG: That's fair. No worries. I'll wind up. Minister, what is clear from that answer is that the discussion at cabinet level, which you have referenced, about pausing flights did not include contemplation of the use of the Biosecurity Act among the people returning. I find that extraordinary.

Ms Adamson : If I could add, I think it's fair to say that the government was very seized of the particular challenge and the discussion—the pause, as the minister has said. There was an expectation, I suppose, that the decision simply to pause may not be sufficient to protect the Australian people. Although I wasn't consulted, I can't say, either, that I was surprised when I was informed of the decision, because there was great concern about the need to protect the Australian people in light of this newly emerged threat.

Senator WONG: I infer from the time frame that you've described, though, that there was no advice to government from DFAT about any consequences of the citizenship ban that was used.

Senator Payne: That characterisation is not a characterisation I accept. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the secretary and I were providing advice, of course, on the engagement with India, in terms of the implications of such a decision.

Senator WONG: No, the ban. You've said to me—you can't have it both ways. You have made it very clear from your evidence in this committee that it was a matter for Mr Hunt. Your department was not consulted and did not have in contemplation a ban. They were advised on 30 April, and that is how you became aware of it. Perhaps you can tell me: prior to Mr Hunt making that decision, did government receive any advice from DFAT about the implications of using a ban under that act to prevent Australian citizens from returning? No?

Senator Payne: DFAT provided advice, as you would expect, on the measures that needed to be taken to—

Senator WONG: Yes, but the measures weren't being contemplated at the time they provided the advice. You met with Minister Hawke and representatives of the Indian Australian community on the morning of 30 April, via a virtual call. Can you confirm that you did that?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Can you confirm that you did not, at the time, give any indication to Indian community leaders that the citizen ban was being contemplated by government?

Senator Payne: My recollection of that conversation, for which I was present in part, is that it was broadly around the situation in India at the time—the very severe COVID situation—the challenge that that was presenting for families and the Indian Australian diaspora, the decision to pause flights, and my engagement with India's Minister of External Affairs, Dr Jaishankar, on that. Because of the timing of the discussion, which was that morning, that was the content of the conversation.

Senator WONG: So, at the time you had that discussion, you hadn't yet been advised of the ban?

Senator Payne: The timing of the advice to me was after that discussion, yes.

Senator WONG: That explains why you didn't give any indication to them—you didn't know it was coming.

Senator Payne: That's correct. We were discussing the pause of flights, obviously, but not the Biosecurity Act application—

Senator WONG: Not the part of the press release that talks about—

CHAIR: Thirty seconds.

Senator WONG: Not the part of the press release that says people might go to jail or have fines if they come back. Do you understand why they felt blindsided by that after your discussion with them, Minister Payne?

Senator Payne: I understand that the application of the Biosecurity Act and the decision to do that is a complex part of this process. But, as Ms Adamson said, and as I have said previously, these are necessitating unprecedented actions, and this is one of those. It is important though that we have been able to reach out and engage with the diaspora—and that has continued, as I understand it, although I have not participated, because I was travelling from that point through Minister Hawke and other colleagues.

CHAIR: Thank you, Minister. Just for the clarification of other members of the committee, Senator Patrick will take us through to the luncheon adjournment at 12.30. Senator Smith will then have a short bracket after the luncheon adjournment, and I might indulge myself as well with a short bracket, which might take us up to about two o'clock. So, those that want an extended lunch break can avail themselves of that.

Senator Payne: I presume that does not include us!

CHAIR: That does not include the chair nor the ministers nor officials. In fact, it's mainly for the benefit of Labor senators, so I don't know why I do this. Senator Patrick, you have the call.

Senator Payne: It looks like Senator Sheldon's got his lunch with him!

Senator SHELDON: I'm always ready!

Senator Payne: He's travelling with his travelling hat!

CHAIR: I have. This is my lunch!

Senator PATRICK: I've got some questions that relate to the Foreign Arrangements Scheme. I don't know if people can help out. I think the minister put out a press release that talked about a thousand notifications. I just want to get an update on that. How many existing core and non-core arrangements have now been notified to the foreign minister?

Mr Newnham : Could you repeat your question, please.

Senator PATRICK: The minister did a release on this. I think she said something like a thousand notifications have been received—

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: I just want an update on that number and the division between core and non-core arrangements.

Mr Newnham : As of 28 May we had received a total of 3,532 notifications of arrangements. Of those, 401 were core arrangements and 2,998 were non-core, and 16 were prospective core arrangements—those that attract a 30-day time frame for a ministerial decision.

Senator PATRICK: Those are the ones that are new arrangements. Is that correct?

Mr Newnham : That's right. They're in the future. The statistic I gave you is the total. Of those 401 core and 2,998 non-core, a very small subset—16—are so-called 'future'.

Senator PATRICK: I went onto your public register, and there are only about 97 notifications or agreements.

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: What's happening in that space? What resources are you applying to that?

Mr Newnham : Yes, Senator, thank you. I just want to be very upfront. There is an absolute time lag between receipt of those notifications and them appearing on the register. If I'm being really honest, we would have liked to have had more on the register by this point. I can certainly assure the committee that we've got quite a number that will go on very shortly. The reason for that time lag is that there is an intentional screening process once we receive those notifications, because that register effectively becomes the transparency mechanism and the government's endorsement that that arrangement actually falls within the scope of the act and that it's been validly notified.

That might sound straightforward, but, actually, it can be quite a detailed process to get to that point. For example, some arrangements have been notified in title only but with no text underneath them. We would deem that not to be a valid notification. Some, a very small number, came in after the deadline of 10 March, the so-called core arrangements. They wouldn't go on the register either. Then there are a quite a few, of course, where there are judgements to be made about whether the entities themselves are caught by the act, whether or not, for example, a foreign university has institutional autonomy, whether any of the exemptions apply and so forth. We are working very hard to try and get more on that register. I would just note that in these first months we've got two big deadlines—10 March and 10 June—just ahead of us. I would say a lot of resources have gone into stakeholder engagement, particularly with those universities, heading into 10 June to answer a significant number of their questions and queries.

Senator PATRICK: So there's a latency—

Mr Newnham : There is.

Senator PATRICK: but we will see them appearing on there.

Mr Newnham : That's right.

Senator PATRICK: In that context, do you have the statistics on which states have these agreements?

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: Can you provide those?

Mr Newnham : Yes, of course.

Senator PATRICK: Of the 401—

Mr Newnham : I would say that, when you run these checks, I'm giving you the statistics from 28 May in total. The statistics I'm about to give you by state and territory will be a little higher than that. The reason I say that is that every day we are getting quite a number in. I'll run you through them. By jurisdiction, Queensland has a total of 209; New South Wales, 142; the ACT, 82; South Australia, 79; Victoria, 59; Western Australia, 58; the Northern Territory, 23; and Tasmania, 23.

Senator PATRICK: Of the 97 that are on your website, about 26 per cent are arrangements with China. Is that a representative sample?

Mr Newnham : I haven't crunched the stats in my head. I would say no, only because it's such a small subset of this ever-increasing number. We won't really have a good sense of it until 10 June, that second deadline. What I can say is that, within the ones that we've been notified about so far, the totals, by foreign country, are: China, 1,476; USA, 309; New Zealand, 208; Vietnam, 175; and Korea, 155. That's just the top five. There's quite a number.

Senator PATRICK: That's fine. In relation to the consideration of these arrangements, there are lots of considerations.

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: How has that actually been carried out? Clearly, those numbers would consume the minister for the next year or two. How are you approaching these determinations? Which ones go to the minister, and which ones are dealt with in a delegated fashion?

Mr Newnham : I would describe it as a four-step process. I mentioned screening a moment ago, which, for every single one of them, is quite a labour-intensive step. Step 2 is a triage process, step 3 is an assessment process and, in some cases, step 4 is formal advice. Why I mention that is that you are bringing a very big number of arrangements down to what I would describe as manageable judgements about those that need to go forward for further assessment and advice to the minister. At each stage of moving through, as I said, screening, triage, assessment and then formal advice, we are providing information, as we go, to the foreign minister's office. That is an ongoing process.

The triage goes to, basically, the materials that have been provided by the state and territory—their entity, university or local government. It works its way through the so-called section-51 factors, those elements where the state and territory has the ability to give a sense of how they've used that arrangement. We have to work our way through that. Sometimes we'll ask for further information. Out of that triage process, we get a sense of those that are more likely to meet the test—in other words, to be inconsistent with foreign policy or foreign relations—those that are unclear and those that are unlikely to be in that category. We would continue to work our way through that in a priority order. As you know, there have been four decisions taken where formal advice has been provided to the foreign minister on notice.

Senator PATRICK: That was announced, thank you. Does the definition of 'adversely affecting Australia's foreign relations' include issues of foreign espionage or foreign interference?

Mr Newnham : Taken together, foreign policy and foreign relations have quite a wideranging set of scenarios that might be drawn into them. Whilst I wouldn't go into any specifics within each case, what I can say is that, across the waterfront, inputs are taken that are relevant to that judgement. In some cases, of course, that expertise would be inside the department already, drawing from whole-of-government materials. In other cases we would, of course, consult with relevant agencies for input.

Senator PATRICK: I was going to ask you that. I presume that that might include ASIO if those particular categories are considered.

Mr Newnham : Yes. I think I would just say, again, on a case-by-case basis, drawing in the appropriate parts or part of government to fill any gaps in our knowledge or to actually just test whether those judgements are appropriate, bearing in mind of course that the department is constantly drawing in inputs, in all sorts of forms, from all sorts of agencies, almost on a daily basis. Where, though, an arrangement had come in and there was a gap in knowledge or a specific area that required bespoke consultation with an agency, then of course, yes, we would undertake that.

Senator PATRICK: Of those non-core arrangements that have been notified, how many notifications have you received in relation to the Confucius Institute?

Mr Newnham : I will just flip to the particular part of this brief. I've got an answer off the top of my head but I want to make sure I get this exactly right. As of 1 June this year, we have received 14 Confucius Institute arrangements from Australian universities.

CHAIR: How many are there?

Mr Newnham : I understand there are 13 Confucius Institutes.

CHAIR: There are 13, but we've got 14 notifications?

Mr Newnham : I want to just be clear. I'm not necessarily a Confucius Institute expert. Ms Lawson, or even perhaps the secretary, may know that more precisely. But the figure that we had understood, including from other agencies, was 13, but I may have that wrong. It is of course possible that there can be more than one arrangement involving an institute, just to be clear.

CHAIR: Thank you for sorting out that confusion for me.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Oh, that's very funny, Eric!

CHAIR: Well, there are 13 but there were 14 notifications. That's why I—

Senator Payne: In the absence of Senator Ayres, it almost beats 'amplification'!

Mr Newnham : I would note that we're not at 10 June yet, so there may be others coming.

Senator PATRICK: I'll just change tack slightly, because I've only got about five minutes left—

Senator Payne: Two actually, I think.

Senator PATRICK: Well, there's injury time!

Senator Payne: You've come off the bench, have you? Good on you.

Senator PATRICK: There was some logistics and then some supplementaries. I'm keeping track of that now. There was an article in Bloomberg, and I'm happy to table it if necessary, but you might just be able—

CHAIR: Has that been provided to the officials?

Senator Payne: I don't think we have it down here yet.

Senator PATRICK: I'm happy to table it or just see if we can refer to it. This is a different topic.

CHAIR: I don't think it needs to be tabled.

Senator PATRICK: It says:

Officials from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and possibly other nations have held technical talks with Chinese counterparts on details of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. That's according to officials from four member countries with knowledge of the discussions, who asked not to be named as they weren't authorized to comment on the talks.

Can you provide details of these talks, when the parliament is going to get a briefing on them and how many people outside of DFAT—maybe people with corporate interests—have been engaged and are aware of these discussions?

Ms Adamson : We're very happy to do that. Of course, we would normally—in the past, at least—have dealt with that during the Trade session, tomorrow afternoon. That's where we'll have our experts who can answer that question.

Senator PATRICK: I'm happy to wait. I'll come back to that tomorrow. Maybe, if the chair could bank some time for me, we could go to lunch.

CHAIR: You do stretch the friendship, Senator Patrick!

Proceedings suspended from 12:29 to 13:32

CHAIR: The committee is resumed. Senator Smith has the call.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I would like to return to the matter of the military coup in Burma. In evidence to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, departmental officials referred to discussions they had with the Burmese diaspora, academia, civil society. Can you detail for me which organisations of the Burmese diaspora in Australia you have consulted with?

Mr Jadwat : My colleagues in the South-East Asia division who work on the Myanmar taskforce have just recently held a series of meetings with community groups, including from the diaspora communities. I don't have the exact names of all the different community groups; I can take that on notice. In addition to that, as I mentioned earlier this morning, we have also been in touch with the National Unity Government representatives in Myanmar.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I will come to that in a moment. I have a number of questions, so perhaps if officials might be able to detail for you who of the diaspora you have met with, we can return to that at the end of my other questions. In responses to Senator Rice this morning, you talked about officials having engaged with the National Unity Government and you had three contexts. Who were they with?

Mr Jadwat : To protect the safety and security of these representatives of the NUG, we don't think it's appropriate to mention their names because we are worried about their safety.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Have they expressed concern to you about you raising their names in public?

Senator Payne: No, this is a very dynamic security situation; therefore because of an abundance of prudence—

Senator DEAN SMITH: That is true. Senior representatives of the National Unity Government have been actively engaged with parliamentarians across the globe, including in Australia—

Senator Payne: Yes, they have.

Senator DEAN SMITH: and haven't detailed any requirement to me or others about not disclosing their names. I'm happy for you to take that on notice if you would like to consider your position.

Senator Payne: I would be happy to do that.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I don't want to imperil anyone in the National Unity Government.

Senator Payne: I would be happy to do that.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Thank you. In the last discussion, we had a bit of toing and froing in regards to the sanctions@DFAT.gov.au email address. I was wondering how many inquiries or referrals had been made to that email address since the last estimates hearing?

Mr Newnham : You are absolutely right. Since our last discussion, there has been some information flowing from the public via that email address and it is in relation to some potential family members that may be in Australia. I don't have the exact number of contacts that have come by there but I would say, whilst I wouldn't go into detail about those for a number of reasons—

Senator DEAN SMITH: I wouldn't ask you about the detail.

Mr Newnham : I can absolutely assure you we are working with other agencies through some of the information that has been provided.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Great. So at a high level and not revealing specific cases—I totally respect that—can you just explain to me what is the process. So a referral is made to the sanctions@DFAT.gov.au.

Mr Jadwat : Yes.

Senator DEAN SMITH: It might be in regards to a number of features of people resident having associations here in Australia. How would you work through that with other agencies?

Mr Newnham : What I could say about that is, and I'm going to broaden it out to a general level—

Senator DEAN SMITH: Yes, please.

Mr Newnham : I'm happy to go into specifics but what I can say is it is very important that the foreign service be equipped with as much data as possible in providing advice to the foreign minister at any given time on any given set of circumstances. We've heard multiple times about the role of sanctions. Unless they're mandated by the UN, our autonomous sanctions regime is a foreign policy tool at the discretion of government. What I can say is that the information that is provided through that avenue goes to the constant calibrations we make about various options that might be at the government's disposal. What I can also say is the sanctions regime rests on our sanctions office in the department working very closely with the Australian Border Force, with AUSTRAC, with the Australian Federal Police and with Home Affairs through our sanctions listings, so I would couch it in those terms.

Senator DEAN SMITH: How far up the decision-making tree does information that might come to the sanctions@DFAT.gov.au email find its way in the decision-making process?

Mr Newnham : I would say it really depends on the information itself and the circumstances. I would say it's a case-by-case judgement. But, of course, it will go to a level of veracity and seriousness depending on the circumstances of the particular situation that we are grappling with and providing advice through a partnership with the bilateral areas of the department to provide advice to a minister about various options. So it would potentially go very senior. It really depends on, as I said, the veracity of that information.

Senator DEAN SMITH: As a result of the referrals that have been made to the sanctions@DFAT.gov.au email address, do you have a better understanding of the network that might be operating in Australia today, the network of associations of people in Australia that might have linkages with the military regime?

Mr Newnham : What I would say there is I am grateful for the light shone on that avenue to provide the information. It is very important in our outreach to sort of highlight that as an avenue for information flow. But, of course, it is very important too to treat that sort of information appropriately, to work our way through the relevance of that information, to other judgements and other decision-making moments, if I could put it that way. I'm not sure if that quite answers your question but I would just say it's a very helpful avenue but of course there is a level of rigour that needs to be applied to analysis of that information that's provided.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Every referral does not mean a credible referral?

Mr Newnham : Correct.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I totally understand that. How would we characterise our influence in Myanmar at the moment?

Mr Jadwat : In relation to influence, I would say there are not many countries that have a great deal of influence right now. The military regime in Myanmar has been largely impervious to foreign influence over the years, but we are doing the best we can. That's why, as the minister said earlier today, we are working very closely with ASEAN as a regional actor with regional equities and regional interests. We are working to support ASEAN in its efforts to find a diplomatic solution to this crisis. We are working with others so that we can maximise influence through regional forums, including with ASEAN.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Regarding our attitude to not impose sanctions, how significant is the ASEAN position in influencing Australia's position compared to the influence of perhaps other like-minded countries like the United Kingdom, the United States or Canada?

Mr Jadwat : As the minister said earlier today, the minister has been engaged in active diplomacy with a variety of countries, including through her recent trip to the US, the UK and Geneva. So we're engaged in dialogue and the minister has been involved in over 43 meetings and calls.

Senator DEAN SMITH: 'Comprehensive engagement' I think was the term that was used this morning.

Mr Jadwat : Yes, comprehensive engagement. ASEAN is one of many institutions or groups of actors around the world that we are talking to. I don't know if we can actually clarify what percentage of influence they have on us, but I think we speak to a range of actors and we have a range of interests. Obviously, ASEAN's centrality in the region is something very important to us. So I think they have significant influence in the region, of course, and we are working very closely with them, as we should.

Ms Adamson : Senator, if I could just add, of course the Australian government makes decisions in Australia's national interest. Of course we talk to a range of partners, but ultimately the decision is ours in light of the full range of our interests as we perceive them.

Senator DEAN SMITH: In the evidence to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, officials said on 13 May:

In the case of the Australian government, our assessment at this time is that additional sanctions by Australia would not have a positive impact on the ground. Our assessment is that it could potentially limit our ability to have influence.

Is that still the position today?

Mr Jadwat : Again I go back to what the minister said earlier today. In relation to sanctions, we continue to keep our sanctions regime under active consideration, and sanctions are not ruled out. Our assessment, though, at the moment is that additional sanctions should not be imposed at this point in time because we don't think they will currently further our interests. Our focus remains on trying to work together with ASEAN to find a regional diplomatic solution, but that does not mean that sanctions at some point may not be considered.

Senator DEAN SMITH: This is an important point. So the option to impose sanctions has not yet been ruled out?

Mr Jadwat : It has not been ruled out.

Senator DEAN SMITH: So it remains a very live issue?

Mr Jadwat : Yes.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Thanks very much. On the matter of the diaspora groups that the department has been speaking to, are you in a position to provide some information on that?

Mr Jadwat : I will have to get advice from my colleagues in the task force. I may be able to get that to you later because I know they have been involved in some active engagement with a variety of community groups.

Senator DEAN SMITH: My expectation would be that the Chin would be involved in that, the Karen would be involved in that, the Cochin, the Mon, et cetera.

Mr Jadwat : My understanding is that the last meeting was with a Chin community group, but in terms of other groups, I can get you more details later.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Thank you very much. Could you just provide me with a bit more information with regard to the Myanmar task force, in terms of its composition and how it engages with other agencies?

Mr Jadwat : The task force sits within the Southeast Asia Division, and I am the head of the Southeast Asia Division. I think we have about 13 colleagues working in that task force. They hold regular interdepartmental committee meetings with agencies across the spectrum. We do that on a regular basis. And, of course, the task force works very closely with our post in Yangon, and works very, very hard to try to build a whole-of-government approach to how we see the situation in Myanmar.

Senator DEAN SMITH: At the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade hearing into Myanmar, our former ambassadors made presentations. With my limited experience in regard to Myanmar matters, I found much of their evidence quite insightful and compelling—as you would expect from former ambassadors. Have you had an opportunity to reflect on their comments and are there any observations you would make?

Mr Jadwat : I haven't had a chance to read the full transcript of what those former ambassadors have said—

Senator DEAN SMITH: They made submissions to the committee.

Mr Jadwat : or their submissions. In relation to what they have to add: I think their views are obviously valued. Obviously, they have experience from being there on the ground and working through difficult circumstances, so we value their views. I know the Myanmar task force itself has had meetings with one of our former ambassadors there as well. So we value their views and we'll continue to value their views as we work through finding a solution to this crisis, and also to inform our own forward position on how we look at the situation.

Senator DEAN SMITH: How important are Australian community expectations when it comes to setting foreign policy directions?

Mr Jadwat : In relation to Myanmar itself?

Senator DEAN SMITH: I was going to start with the general, but let's cut to the chase. Let's talk about Myanmar, yes.

Mr Jadwat : I think community engagement and talking to people across the spectrum is always important and that it should always be a part of how we see our foreign policy because, ultimately, we represent the people of Australia. So I think the views and the attitudes that are reflected in the broader community will always play an important part in how we see and how we shape foreign policy.

Senator DEAN SMITH: The live matter of whether or not to impose sanctions is very, very relevant—top of mind and a key measure of confidence amongst many Australians of Burmese heritage in Australia's foreign policy. At a time when much effort is being spent to talk up the values of democracy, free speech and the rule of law, I think there's a very strong expectation from Australians of Burmese heritage, and of non-Burmese heritage, that Australia will not be reticent in using every opportunity—particularly if, as you say, the regime might be impervious or, as officials suggested, our influence is limited. I would just like to reiterate that keeping the matter of sanctions top of mind and very, very live is critical. I hope there's not a sense that the further we move away from the events of the military coup, that somehow people would think that Australia's interest in Myanmar matters will be diminished. That certainly won't be the case, and I think we've had a bit of a sense of that today. Thank you very much for your evidence.

Mr Jadwat : Thank you.

Senator Payne: Can I say, Senator, that that is absolutely not the case; I can personally assure you of that. In my visits in this last month to the United Kingdom, Geneva and Washington, this subject was almost without exception canvassed in every meeting. That was in the context of like-minded engagement with Foreign Secretary Raab; Minister of State, Lord Tariq Ahmad; and other counterparts in the UK—including with the foreign ministers of France and India in our first trilateral meeting. It was so in Geneva when meeting with relevant multilateral agencies, including those who have a particular engagement on the position of the displaced Rohingya—the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and others. It was even included in the context of vaccine distribution with Gavi and Covax. And it was so in the United States when meeting with the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken; the National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan; and with UN Special Rapporteur, Tom Andrews, as I said in earlier evidence. It was also true of my meeting in London with the current chair of ASEAN, Brunei Foreign Minister Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof. All of these conversations engage the questions and the challenges currently facing us in relation to Myanmar, and particularly in conversations with my ASEAN colleagues. I think I omitted US Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell in Washington as well, who has a very long-term interest in these issues, and, of course, the head of the International Commission of the Red Cross, Peter Maurer, as well. Absolutely, it has not shifted an iota on Australia's agenda.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I don't doubt your conscientiousness to this matter in your dealings with other governments. When I began my line of inquiry it was with regard to the Burmese diaspora in Australia. My expectation is that the government will be highly engaged with the members of the Burmese diaspora on this matter.

Senator Payne: Which we are.

Senator DEAN SMITH: I have written to you to invite you to meet with the members of the Burmese diaspora on your next visit to Western Australia, because I think it's very, very important that communities which have non-traditional Anglo origins stay very, very engaged and feel as if their views are being represented by the Australian government.

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator.

Senator DEAN SMITH: As I said previously, the matter of sanctions is top of mind. There is disappointment with the government's position at the moment, but, as we have emphasised this afternoon, this remains a live matter and the decision not to impose sanctions has not been made.

Senator Payne: That's correct, Senator.

Senator DEAN SMITH: That's a correct characterisation?

Senator Payne: That is a correct characterisation.

Senator DEAN SMITH: Thank you.

CHAIR: Minister, you've been clothed with powers in recent times to deal with certain international arrangements that may be seen to impact our national interest or national security. It's understood the discredited Victorian Labor government's BRI has thankfully been terminated under those powers that you have been granted. I was wondering, have any other agreements been terminated using those powers?

Senator Payne: Thank you, Senator Abetz. Yes, a total of four agreements at this point have been terminated.

CHAIR: Are you able to briefly disclose—

Senator Payne: Not in detail, but they were identified publicly.

CHAIR: Yes, and included Syria as one?

Senator Payne: Yes, and Iran.

CHAIR: Yes. So this has been used to protect our national interest and our national security in relation to, at this stage, three separate countries.

Senator Payne: That's correct. And to ensure, as we've discussed at length through the committee process and in the parliament, a consistent approach to foreign policy across all levels of government. One aspect of the implementation of the scheme, which Mr Newnham gets to see at closer proximity than most, is the full visibility that we now have, but also that states and territories now have of international activities undertaken across their various agencies. It is our view that universities will also benefit from that in due course.

CHAIR: All the universities, I think, were previously covered this morning by—

Senator Payne: That's correct.

CHAIR: And if I may, I won't pursue that line at this stage. We'll see what happens in a week's time when I think full disclosure is required by universities and local governments on 10 June. How do you, Minister, or the department, become aware of arrangements that are worthy of review or consideration? BRI I suppose was hitting everybody in the face—you could not help but be aware of that one. But how could, or would, other arrangements come before you to be considered? And let me just randomly pick a few, like Port of Newcastle, Port of Darwin, Cockatoo Island or, in my home state of Tasmania, the quite outrageous Cambria Green proposal.

Senator Payne: I'm not familiar with the last one.

CHAIR: Let's hope you don't have to be, and it fails elsewhere.

Senator Payne: There is now a range of mechanisms across government to address arrangements of different characters. There are commercial arrangements considered through the Foreign Investment Review Board and the amendments which have been made to that. There are arrangements in relation to foreign influence, foreign interference and critical infrastructure in prospect. Without this legislation there would not have been a mechanism to examine the sorts of arrangements which we have been considering through this process. I think Mr Newnham said, when he was at the table earlier, there are over 3,500 arrangements or thereabouts.

Mr Newnham : I'll go back to my stats.

CHAIR: But that related to universities or just generally?

Senator Payne: That's in total.

Mr Newnham : A total of 3,532, of which 401 are core; they only involve states and territories. Then 2,998 are non-core, and they could be states and territories or universities in that category.

Senator Payne: So commercial arrangements—

CHAIR: So ports would be seen as a state or territory?

Senator Payne: No, not necessarily, Senator. It depends on the nature of the engagement, the transaction. So Port of Darwin and Port of Newcastle, as I understand it—I stand to be corrected by the chief legal officer—are corporations acting on a commercial basis, and they're not covered by this legislation.

Mr Newnham : That's right, exactly as the minister has said. I might add, you asked at the outset: how do you become aware of these arrangements? I just want to perhaps put on the record that we have had in excess of 1,400 individual engagements with stakeholders throughout this process. I expect that will climb even further before 10 June and thereafter. We have had around about 100 meetings with the states and territories and the universities as well. I mention that because it's in those conversations that judgements and information flow that goes to what is inside the scope of this legislative scheme versus what's inside the scope of other legislative schemes is worked through. It's very important, of course, that we be as helpful as we can in laying out that scope. Might I also add that there are multiple ways we might become aware of arrangements if the states and territories or the universities themselves don't put them forward—state officers, media reporting.

CHAIR: Government business enterprises are considered commercial enterprises. Is that correct?

Mr Newnham : It's not really a straightforward answer to that question. It very much depends.

CHAIR: Sounds like a good chief legal officer; good on you!

Senator Payne: A very good chief legal officer, Senator.

CHAIR: I mean that as a compliment.

Mr Newnham : Alright. What I was going to say is we have put some guidance—

CHAIR: As a former lawyer myself.

Mr Newnham : online about this. I mention it because it depends on factors such as the revenue stream for that particular government enterprise, whether it operates according to commercial contracts, whether it's fulfilling a statutory duty that is driven more by political and government imperatives than commercial. So there's a range of factors that goes to that. But, as the minister has said, we have been clear right through the legislative process, for example, on the Port of Darwin. The same principles apply to some of these other arrangements as well.

Senator Payne: Can I also say that since the scheme commenced there have been a total of 13 decisions under the scheme: four to cancel pre-existing arrangements that you asked about, one decision to approve entry into a prospective arrangement, and eight approvals to commence negotiations of prospective arrangements. So that is another indication of the scheme working between state and territory governments and the Commonwealth in terms of arrangements that they wish to make with foreign entities.

CHAIR: Thank you. I understand Senator Fierravanti-Wells has a question on this.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Mr Newnham, in answer to question on notice 58, the statistics that you provided to me were as at 3 May. You said 1,525 total arrangements were notified to the minister, and then you broke those down into core and pre-existing and prospective, et cetera. The figure you have just given—could you give that to me again?

Mr Newnham : Of course. I want to be clear: these are 28 May, so some time has passed between those.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That's what I thought.

Mr Newnham : There's a total of 3,532 arrangements notified to the government as of 28 May. Of those, broken down, 401 are core arrangements, 2,998 are non-core arrangements and 16 are core prospective arrangements—again, that very small number of future arrangements that I mentioned. So far, we have 98 on the register—as the minister has said, 13 decisions, four cancellations and so forth. I'm happy to break down the macro stats, if that helps.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you. Mr Newnham, in relation to what was notified, I take it that, because the legislation excludes the effective control—where that effective control is not—

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And we had this discussion at the time of the legislation et cetera. So none of those arrangements have been considered as part of this. Do we at least know how many such arrangements there are—in other words, arrangements like the port of Darwin, the port of Newcastle and those sorts of arrangements? Do we have a handle on that at all, or, because they are excluded from the legislation, have we not considered them?

Mr Newnham : I suppose I would just note: of course there are multiple regulatory regimes in Australia that bring in that sort of information. And you are right: we are tracking arrangements that have been validly notified under our scheme. But I can say to you that we also talked very much and closely with other government departments that have ownership of the Foreign Investment Review Board, foreign influence, foreign transparency schemes and security of critical infrastructure. There may well be—indeed there are—information streams for those sorts of arrangements to come in via those parts of government.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I know that, but the bottom line is that this legislation doesn't cover those, particularly those arrangements that state and territory governments enter into, with, for example, a private company in China—which we know is not a private company, but we haven't defined that in the legislation because we didn't go that far. My point is that that's the most egregious place where these arrangements do offend, if I can put that in those terms, yet that's a whole area that we don't look at.

Mr Newnham : What I can say is that of course there will be circumstances where arrangements with foreign entities such as the ones you've described may fall under our scheme, and by that I mean where it doesn't fit inside that exemption of a corporation operating on a commercial basis and the indicators that I mentioned a moment ago. So that's one. A second one would be where that sort of arrangement sits under a head arrangement—a so-called subsidiary arrangement. If a head arrangement is caught by this legislation, those subsidiary arrangements underneath are caught by this scheme. But I would just go back to the point I made earlier, which is that depending on what the circumstances are of the arrangements you are describing here—and I know you describe them in the general—there may well be indicators for each of those that do fall to a Foreign Investment Review Board screening process, or security of critical infrastructure or foreign interference and foreign influence transparency. I guess what I want to get to here is that this scheme does sit shoulder to shoulder with those other schemes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: They do, and, progressively, we are getting to a point where we will eventually cover all arrangements, but we are not there yet—that's really the point I am making.

Senator Payne: One of the reasons that we said, in discussions in the chamber and in the preparation for the bill, that we would have a three-year review was to consider issues such as this.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Now that the scheme is up and running, I wonder whether, Chair, it might be useful for us to maybe have a briefing—

Senator Payne: Sure.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: On the operation at this point in time, Mr Newnham, particularly after the next date—I think it's—

CHAIR: On 10 June?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: On 10 June. Perhaps, if that could be arranged, that would be useful. I think so. Thank you.

Senator Payne: Happy to.

CHAIR: Just before I hand to Senator Wong, I will indulge myself and move on to the Magnitsky issue, if I can call it that. Minister and the department, you are aware of the unanimous committee report and my personal encouragement, before the committee even started considering this matter for such a regime. Minister, can you just confirm for me that this is still under active consideration by the government?

Senator Payne: Yes, I can.

CHAIR: I'll take another quick bite and that is: in relation to Foreign Affairs staff overseas and COVID-19 vaccinations, how are we going? Are they all vaccinated, all covered?

Ms Adamson : The answer is we've been making very good progress in doing that. It's quite a complex rollout, and our chief people officer can give you the data around it in terms of percentage of staff vaccinated, if you're interested. The fact is it's a priority. We're making progress.

CHAIR: I am most definitely interested. I'm conscious of time, so if that can be taken on notice—

Ms Adamson : Certainly.

CHAIR: The headline is that good progress is being made.

Ms Adamson : And further progress is made every week.

CHAIR: Excellent. That's all I need to know, and if I can be provided the details on notice I'd be obliged.

Ms Adamson : Certainly.

Senator WONG: Just to finish up on the India situation, I think you were coming back with information—and you may not have had an opportunity—on the number of unaccompanied minors worldwide.

Ms Wood : Yes, that hasn't come back yet.

Senator WONG: The case study of Meg and what's been done to assist her—is that also coming later?

Ms Wood : That's coming later as well.

Senator WONG: Can I add to it: there's an additional case study which has also been in the media, which I have become aware of, about 2½-year-old Kiytan whose parents, Sheersh Srivastava and Shilpa Bhatnagar, have sought to bring him back. His grandmother is currently caring for him. She has been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. One of the parents has applied three times, the father, for an exemption to leave Australia to go to India to collect his son but has been refused. I'm wondering if you can tell me if this case is known to you, and are you doing anything to assist this family?

Ms Wood : I'll take that on notice too.

Senator WONG: Minister, can you confirm Howard Springs is not yet at 2,000?

Senator Payne: I'll ask Ms Wood to respond. I gave my understanding earlier.

Ms Wood : We confirmed over the lunchbreak that it is at 2,000.

Senator WONG: So why did Health say something different last night?

Senator Payne: I don't think you can expect Ms Wood to answer why Health said something different.

Senator WONG: I'm just asking. She's communicated with her colleagues.

Ms Wood : And they've double-checked with Health. I can't explain the discrepancy, but I can confirm it's at 2,000.

Senator WONG: Okay. Minister, do you also agree with Ms Halton who noted that Howard Springs could go to 3,000 but, more importantly, yesterday when she said:

It's good that we're going to get Howard Springs to 2,000 places. It's also, I think, a bit perplexing that it's taken us this long.

Senator Payne: No, I don't necessarily agree with Ms Halton, although I acknowledge, of course, Ms Halton's very considered contribution to this process, but these matters are negotiated between the Department of Health and the Northern Territory government. I don't wish to place material which is not necessarily my firsthand knowledge inappropriately on the record, but it is my understanding that during these negotiations the Northern Territory government indicated that they wanted to ensure we were through the cyclone season before the expansion of Howard Springs to 2,000. They also wanted to ensure that they had the health capacity to address any COVID-positive cases and the implications from that, and the staffing and logistical arrangements around the expansion of the facility from its then 850 to 2,000 people.

Senator WONG: Minister, on your watch we've seen the numbers of Australians stranded rise. We've seen the number of unaccompanied children in India—209—go up. In excess of 10,000 Australians are still there. We've seen families separated. You won't tell people when they will be home and you have again ducked, in that answer, the responsibility for national quarantine. I really have a very simple question: whether it's bushfires, vaccines or national quarantine, why won't Mr Morrison and his ministers simply take responsibility?

Senator Payne: I absolutely disagree with you.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Payne: The reason I disagree with you, as we have been discussing for some time, is the number of Australians who have been able to return since March 2020, when the government's recommendations around travel were first made. I went through some of those numbers this morning: the number of Australians who have been supported to return on facilitated commercial flights organised directly through government, the number of Australians who have been able to return on commercial flights through their own means and the number of Australians who have been able to return on other flights that government has supported.

I don't deny for a moment—and I never have—

Senator WONG: I also remember how much you resisted that.

Senator Payne: not in any—

Senator WONG: I remember how much you resisted government facilitated flights. You told me, 'We don't do them,' commercial arrangements, and only from the epicentre. I remember you and the Prime Minister resisting them. But, of course, the market collapsed when the borders were closed so those were the only option—which was entirely foreseeable.

I was going to move on to Afghanistan. But do you want to finish what you are saying, Minister?

Senator Payne: No, Senator, you'll only interrupt, so it's not worth it.

CHAIR: Alright, please don't respond to that!

Senator WONG: I'm not going to.

CHAIR: Let's have a question on Afghanistan and the appropriate officials.

Senator WONG: The government announced on 25 May that it would be closing the Australian Embassy in Kabul on 28 May. Obviously, there was a very short time frame between announcement and closure. An urgent closure had not previously been expected or foreshadowed. I want to understand some of the timetable around this. Minister, I asked you some questions in Defence estimates on Tuesday about when and how this decision was made. I think you said that it was a cabinet decision to close the embassy.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: I assume, though, it was preceded—by quite a substantial margin—by advice from agencies on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, which could reasonably be predicted as a consequence of the troop withdrawal. Ah, new officers—should I ask that question again?

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator.

Senator WONG: I assume that decision was preceded, by some time, by advice from agencies on the likely deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan, given the pending international troop drawdown. Yes?

Mr Cowan : Yes, there has been advice from agencies, including Defence, DFAT and security agencies, providing clear advice on the security situation. That included the threat to Australian and other interests in Afghanistan.

Senator WONG: My point is that it was obviously preceded by a significant time frame. No, I'll do this question the other way around. The US began withdrawing its troops in, what, March 2020. Is that right?

Mr Cowan : President Biden announced his decision to withdraw troops on 14 April.

Senator WONG: Right. And then President Biden confirmed the continuation of the US withdrawal. Then on 13 April 2021 he set the deadline of September to withdraw all US forces from the country. Is that correct?

Mr Cowan : Yes, correct.

Senator WONG: And the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, announced the ADF withdrawal on 15 April?

Mr Cowan : Correct.

Senator WONG: I'm assuming that, because of the pending drawdown—the advice you're referencing—people would have started considering the likely security ramifications of the withdrawal well prior to the cabinet decision.

Ms Adamson : For a number of years now obviously—for the duration of having a resident embassy in Kabul since 2006, in fact—we've had to pay very close attention to the security situation. It's something that I have tracked very closely, given my responsibilities for the safety and security of our staff, during my term as secretary. For a number of years of course we've been doing that. We've been seeking progressively to mitigate risks, because those risks were quite substantial. There have been a series of reviews over this whole period with action after action to enable us to continue our operation through the embassy in the ways that we wanted to do it, given the variety of Australian interests engaged.

It's fair to say that, given President Trump's announcements, the expectations around the overall so-called peace process and the situation on the ground, we were anticipating from last year in fact that we would need to during this period very carefully track it, with particular focus on the enablers that enable an embassy to continue to operate in an environment where there are risks and dangers. So, yes, we had been doing that at the same time—and you'll note this in the budget papers—continuing to seek funding for a continued embassy presence. I suppose in our minds we had both continuity and our responsibilities to staff and the extent to which they could be met, so to that extent you're right.

Senator WONG: Were these reviews formal reviews?

Ms Adamson : They were internal reviews reporting to me.

Senator WONG: Sure. When was the most recent one prior to the decision being made and announced that the embassy would be closed?

Ms Adamson : As I said, there was a series of reviews—2016, 2017, 2018, 2018-19, 2019, 2019, 2019 and 2019. Then as I understand it—and Minoli Perera might want to speak to this—sort of monthly meetings, if you like, engaging closely with the embassy given the particular security risks on the ground, including moving around Kabul in an environment where vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices were commonly deployed.

Senator WONG: I assume that the minister was advised relevantly at each point about judgements about security of the embassy. When did you first advise the minister that DFAT's view was that the security of personnel could no longer be assured under any circumstances?

Ms Adamson : Can I take you back a step?

Senator WONG: Okay.

Ms Adamson : This body of work continuing is taken very seriously obviously. In the middle of January I asked that the minister be formally advised through submission of the various issues that were at play—our concerns being flagged about enablers as the troop presence was drawn down.

Senator WONG: So January this year?

Ms Adamson : But that was a noting submission, if you like, to be aware of the factors we were tracking closely—that we could envisage a situation—

Senator WONG: Given you've put that on the record, did that contemplate the possibility that risk mitigation may not be possible?

Ms Adamson : Yes, it did, but it was in a way back from it, a step removed—

Senator WONG: Yes. I understand that. Therefore, given that time frame, when the ADF withdrawal from Afghanistan was announced on 15 April for the withdrawal for September 2021 had a decision already been made to close the embassy?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator Payne: At which point?

Senator WONG: At the point at which you announced the withdrawal of troops.

Senator Payne: No.

Senator WONG: But already you have been advised since January—and I'm not trying to play games here, Ms Adamson—that there was the possibility that sufficient risk mitigation would not be available?

Ms Adamson : It was more that we were wanting to draw attention to the body of work that we were doing. The viability of the enablers was a key issue for us, and we were tracking the risks to our staff.

Senator WONG: Minister, you announced on 25 May that the embassy would be closed. When was the decision actually made to close?

Senator Payne: Around 13 May.

Senator WONG: You've told us already that it was a cabinet decision. Were you present in that meeting?

Senator Payne: Yes, I was present virtually.

Senator WONG: In fact, you were in Afghanistan at the time; is that right?

Senator Payne: No.

Senator WONG: Or by that stage were you elsewhere?

Senator Payne: I was in the United States—securely and virtually.

Senator WONG: In your visit to Kabul on 10 May did you raise with any of the leaders with whom you met the prospect of the embassy closing?

Senator Payne: As I said at Defence estimates earlier in the week, the discussions that the government was having at the time were ongoing—both meetings and discussions were ongoing. I certainly indicated in my engagements the significant security challenges that lay ahead of posts like ours in Kabul and I discussed those with a range of counterparts.

Senator WONG: Did you discuss the embassy closure? You met with President Ghani, didn't you?

Senator Payne: With President Ghani, with Dr Abdullah Abdullah—

Senator WONG: And with Minister Safi?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Did you discuss the possible embassy closure with any of them?

Senator Payne: Not in the specific sense.

Senator WONG: Did you tell them that we might have to close?

Senator Payne: As you know, I don't usually go into the details of conversations with international counterparts and leaders. Certainly, in those conversations part of the discussion, which was around the changes that are going to impact Afghanistan with the extensive military drawdown, included canvassing the security challenges, the security implications of that and a range of other issues. As part of those conversations, I indicated in the broad that these presented real challenges for Australia and for Australia's continuing presence.

Senator WONG: Why was the time frame between announcement and closure so compressed? Was it a deliberate decision to have only three days?

Senator Payne: Not specifically, no.

Senator WONG: Does anybody want to jump in and give me a reason?

Ms Adamson : There were operational reasons for why we were up against a deadline.

Senator WONG: Yes, at the other end there was a deadline to get people out, but why did you wait to announce it? It's a genuine question.

Senator Payne: Because there are security and operational considerations to be had as well.

Senator WONG: Is it the advice from the table that there are security imperatives which require only three days notice of closure?

Senator Payne: Not three days specifically. My point was that there are steps that need to be taken—and Ms Adamson can answer this as well—

Senator WONG: I understand that, but if someone can explain to me why three days is better than five or 10, given the closure was decided on the 13th, that would be good.

Senator Payne: There are aspects of the security environment on which we have agreed to provide you a briefing from both Defence and Foreign Affairs at an appropriate time, but they do go in part to the timing and the decision-making process of such a difficult decision as this.

Senator WONG: Ms Adamson, is it your evidence that the compressed time frame of three days was required for security reasons?

Senator Payne: I said it was a factor.

Ms Adamson : Whether it was a small number of days—to my mind there was an enormous amount of work that needed to be done very quickly, and there was a sequence of steps we needed to take. They were very, very carefully managed. We needed to inform partners as well. So the sequencing over a period of only a little more than two weeks was as good as we could make it.

Senator WONG: When did you first advise the embassy here?

Mr Cowan : We advised the embassy here on 21 May.

Senator WONG: Have any of the interlocutors with whom you have engaged expressed concerns about the effect on the bilateral relationship of the withdrawal of all diplomatic staff from Afghanistan?

Mr Cowan : I think partners in many cases would prefer that we remained there. We have been very clear that we intend to continue very deep engagement with Afghanistan. We will be doing that through a nonresident ambassador and team, and we will be continuing our development program. We have made clear to them that we will still stay very deeply engaged with Afghanistan, even though the physical office presence will close in the interim.

Senator WONG: Was the 21 May discussion with the embassy here the first advice to the Afghan government?

Mr Cowan : Yes, it was the first advice to the Afghan government that we were closing on 28 May.

Senator WONG: Has there been any other engagement since the discussions with the embassy?

Mr Cowan : There's been engagement in Kabul and there's been further engagement here in Canberra.

Senator WONG: But nothing further at ministerial level?

Senator Payne: I met with the ambassador this week. Bearing in mind that I have been in quarantine for two weeks since I returned, it was my first opportunity to meet with the ambassador in person.

Senator WONG: Are we the first coalition partner country to withdraw all of our diplomatic representation from Afghanistan?

Mr Cowan : Yes.

Senator WONG: Notwithstanding the 'we're committed' words you just gave me, would it be correct to say that the bilateral relationship will be substantially impacted by this decision? We are going to have fewer DFAT staff in direct contact with Afghan officials, we will have fewer opportunities for that direct engagement, and COVID and the pandemic will render travel much more difficult.

Ms Adamson : I think our job is to ensure that we can continue the elements of the relationship that matter most to both sides. I think it's also important to acknowledge that, operationally, in Kabul, for some time it has not been able to operate in that security environment in the way a normal embassy would. I'm not sure whether you have been—you may well have visited—

Senator WONG: Senator Kitching has.

Ms Adamson : For anyone who has, you will understand the constraints, the very heavy security presence and assessments and the difficulty of face-to-face meetings, even pre-COVID. Our job is to ensure that we are able to conduct the relationship, bearing in mind our deep investment in Afghanistan in a wide variety of ways that you are well aware of. It will be a challenge, but that's our job.

Senator WONG: Including Australians having given their lives there.

Ms Adamson : Absolutely. That is our job.

Senator WONG: I assume that on 13 April—you assure me, hand on heart—the decision was not made at that stage to close the embassy; this is the date of the decision to withdraw troops.

Ms Adamson : That's correct.

Senator WONG: What changed between the 13th and the 25th?

Ms Adamson : I can ask Ms Perera, as chief security officer, to speak to the security dimensions. Another factor—a very compelling factor, actually, from DFAT's point of view, given the security assessment—was our own ADF support and enablers and the airlift capability that we needed to be able to—

Senator WONG: That was contemplatable as at the 15th.

Ms Adamson : No, because the 28 May deadline of the last possible airlift was not apparent to us then.

Senator WONG: You weren't aware of when people were going to be withdrawn by before the Prime Minister made the announcement? I thought there was a cabinet decision you would have been—

Ms Adamson : Yes, but the airlift component of it—so the sequencing of defence personnel and the enablers, if you like, to enable us to draw down the embassy became clearer only subsequently.

Senator WONG: I assume you considered co-location options?

Ms Adamson : We have been considering co-location options over a number of years. We are very, very familiar, indeed, with the lack of opportunity involved in those.

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister said on 15 April:

While our military contribution will reduce, we will continue to support the stability and development of Afghanistan … This includes our diplomatic presence …

Then he goes on to talk about other things. Are you telling me that no-one at that stage, given all that had been advised, had already contemplated the potential closure of the embassy?

Ms Adamson : We had been contemplating the potential closure of the embassy if the threat level and the risk to our personnel rose above a level we could tolerate. We had been doing that for some time.

Senator WONG: So why did he talk about the diplomatic presence?

Ms Adamson : Because at that point we were still envisaging that we would be able to continue.

Senator Payne: As I said on Tuesday, the advice that the department received was that, with the departure of international troops from Afghanistan, the risks to our embassy would significantly increase. Mitigations wouldn't be able to be applied to our security plan that would reduce the risk to an acceptable level, given the time available before the departure of key military enablers. As the secretary has said, subsequent to the announcement of 15 April and sometime subsequent to that we were advised that the final opportunity for airlift, in light of the security advice, was 28 May. That was the first advice of an effective date, as the secretary has put on the record.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry; I just don't quite understand. I would have assumed, in the context of a decision to withdraw troops, it would have become clear through the cabinet process that that would be the final date of airlift. Was there another event which gave rise to that advice?

Senator Payne: We can't speak to the processes of the ADF planning, but that planning had not been declared to us at that time.

Senator WONG: When were locally engaged staff advised of closure?

Mr Cowan : The locally engaged staff were advised on 21 May.

Senator WONG: After or before the public announcement?

Mr Cowan : Before the public announcement.

Senator WONG: How were they advised?

Mr Cowan : They were addressed by the head of mission.

Senator WONG: How many locally engaged staff do we have? Is it about 100 direct, or more?

Mr Cowan : There are different categories of people employed at the mission. At the time of closure, the post directly employed 24 locally engaged staff.

Senator WONG: And then there are those employed by contractors?

Mr Cowan : Correct.

Senator WONG: How many are in that cohort?

Ms Adamson : There were about 280, I think.

Senator WONG: So these are people employed, for example, by security contractors?

Ms Adamson : Yes, to provide security.

Senator WONG: Will all these people be eligible for resettlement?

Mr Cowan : The process is that individuals can make an application for certification to their employer—in this case, DFAT. At that point there are two steps. Once they've made an application for certification it will come to DFAT, and then to the foreign minister, to certify LES or other employees at risk of harm due to their employment in support of our mission in Afghanistan and, therefore, able to apply for humanitarian visas. Then it goes to another step, administered by the Department of Home Affairs, which is to process that visa application that has assessments on the basis of health, character and national security.

Senator WONG: Can you confirm that DFAT advised some Afghan security guards working for the Australian embassy that they would not be eligible for resettlement as they worked as employees of a private security company?

Mr Cowan : Yes, I can confirm that there was an email sent, on 26 May, stating that people in that category were ineligible. That email was sent in error and was rectified the following day, 27 May—

Senator WONG: After media inquiries.

Mr Cowan : after discussions with our mission in Kabul, stating that contractors and security staff could make an application.

Senator WONG: It was after media contacted the department. Were there no measures put in place, prior to the announcement, as to arrangements for applications for visas for these staff?

Mr Cowan : For which staff, the whole—

Senator WONG: Locally engaged staff who would need to seek humanitarian visas.

Mr Cowan : Yes, the process is longstanding. It's been in place since 2013. Over that period, the Australian government's granted 1,400 visas, approximately, to LES and their families from a range of agencies. That includes 45 DFAT LES and their families, amounting to 215 visas. So there is a process there and it's been in place a number of years.

Senator WONG: Okay. The email, you said was sent in error. I think your evidence is it wasn't that the policy had changed, it was that the policy was not correctly articulated. Is that the evidence?

Mr Cowan : Yes.

Senator WONG: So can you confirm that we previously have had people employed by contractors associated with the Australian embassy eligible to apply for these humanitarian visas?

Mr Cowan : I think what I can say is that in the circumstances we are in now, which is that the embassy is closing, we are accepting applications from contractors as well, including guards, for assessment against the criteria on a case-by-case basis. At the end of the day, it will be a matter for the foreign minister to decide whether or not those people are eligible.

Senator WONG: There's a growing level of insecurity in Afghanistan. We have public comments from the US. General Milley has talked about the risk to interpreters and employees being targeted by the Taliban. The home secretary in the UK has talked about this as being a moral obligation and so forth. Are you going to accelerate this? Are these going to be processed as a matter of priority? These people have served us in a very risky situation, and some for a very long period of time. It just sounds a lot like, 'We'll consider your application.' If you want to disabuse me of that, please do, or the minister can. If you can say the sorts of things that some of our partners and allies are saying about the imperative associated with this, I think people would welcome that.

Senator Payne: There are a number of cohorts in the application process. There are those with visas guaranteed. There are those who have submitted visa applications. There are those who have the application process underway. There are those who could apply and will make their own decisions about whether they do apply. But Home Affairs, the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who are the three agencies involved in this process, exclusive of the security aspects because they are not security aspects with which DFAT and Defence deal, have the process underway, yes.

Senator WONG: The process is underway? I'm sorry, Minister, but if I were an interpreter whose life might—

Senator Payne: You asked me to assure you that this was happening. That is what I am saying.

Senator WONG: Do you think we have a moral obligation to these people?

Senator Payne: We absolutely have an obligation to these people—

Senator WONG: Yes, we do.

Senator Payne: and that is what we are doing.

Ms Adamson : And, Senator, from a—

Senator WONG: A moral obligation.

Senator Payne: That is what we are doing, yes.

Ms Adamson : From a DFAT perspective, Senator, let me also say that our staff know that we must act as quickly as we can to process these applications. They are a very high priority. We are one of only three departments involved, but we're strongly committed to ensuring that we do the very best we can by our staff, recognising the service that they have given us—as you say, many of them over a long period of time in difficult and dangerous circumstances.

Senator Payne: This was, in fact, a matter I discussed in Kabul with post there at the time, as well, and the priority that both they, from a DFAT perspective, were applying to that.

Senator KITCHING: There was a report in the Guardian that the Taliban have openly said that anyone who has worked for or alongside foreign governments or military forces is a traitor and an enemy and will be targeted. The US has said that it is working rapidly to develop plans to evacuate interpreters and other staff. Are we acting rapidly as well?

Senator Payne: Yes, Senator, and I think that the quote that you restate there is indicative of the observations that have been made around the security challenges that we deal with and that our staff deal with, and that, in fact, the Afghan community deals with every day, as you know.

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Senator WONG: Minister, on 25 May, were you still in quarantine?

CHAIR: It depends.

Senator Payne: What does it depend on, Senator Abetz?

CHAIR: It all depends what the question is going to be.

Senator Payne: The answer is yes because I left quarantine on Sunday 30 May.

Senator WONG: I noticed that it was a very big announcement, but there was no press conference or interview to explain it.

Senator Payne: Yes, I left quarantine on Sunday 30 May.

Senator WONG: You didn't have any media engagement by phone or anything? It's just a very big announcement. This is our—

Senator Payne: I did a number of radio interviews, particularly during my quarantine period, but I'm not sure on that.

Senator WONG: It's our longest war.

Senator Payne: Yes, I understand that.

Senator WONG: In the statement released on the 25th, there's no indication of where officials will be based in order to visit Afghanistan. Has that been finalised?

Senator Payne: No, Senator, the secretary and I are finalising that now.

Senator WONG: Where will any ambassador be based?

Senator Payne: That is part of that discussion.

Senator WONG: What are the financial implications of closure?

Ms Adamson : We're working through those, including with the Department of Finance. It will take some time for us to be able to settle on that, including in relation to our continuing engagement.

Senator WONG: How many DFAT staff—direct employees—were in Kabul as at 25 May?

Mr Cowan : Let me take that on notice. It would have been a fairly small number.

Senator WONG: Could you do that: how many will remain accredited to Afghanistan and where will they be located and how many will return to Canberra or be posted elsewhere?

Senator Payne: We'll provide that to you.

Ms Adamson : We will provide that, but we don't have the answers yet because we're working them through.

Senator WONG: Yes, I'm just putting them on notice.

Ms Adamson : Okay, but we'll have to make decisions about it; it's not as if we could answer them today or tomorrow—not that kind of notice.

Senator Payne: Given that we have staggered versions of notice now—on notice.

Ms Adamson : Just so you get a sense of it, we typically had around 10 or 11 A-based staff in the mission in Kabul, 22 or 23 locally engaged staff and 280 security contractors. And I just want to be clear that not all of those, of course, were locally engaged Afghans. There were a range of different people in that security cohort. So we can provide the additional information that you've asked for on notice once decisions have been made.

Senator WONG: Hekmatullah: the last time this was discussed I think the evidence was that he was in Qatar. Can you provide an update on—

Senator Payne: We have continued to impress upon all counterparts with representations for the importance of him serving his full sentence without early release and without pardon. It is a difficult situation and at a delicate stage to be frank, given the circumstances in Afghanistan now and the insistence from some parties that it is connected to future peace arrangements. But our position has been unequivocal and has not changed. We are totally committed to ensuring, as best as we are able, with counterparts that he remain serving a custodial sentence.

Senator WONG: Is he currently in Qatar, as per previously?

Senator Payne: That is our understanding, yes

Senator WONG: Is it the government's understanding that his potential release is still part of the intra-Afghan negotiations?

Senator Payne: As I said, it is being connected to future peace negotiations, yes.

Senator WONG: Coming back to the issue of visas for those who have served us or worked with us whilst in Afghanistan who face the sort of risk that Senator Kitching described, whose responsibility is it in this government to ensure that these applications are processed as a matter of priority?

Mr Cowan : The processing of the visa applications is the responsibility of the Department of Home Affairs.

Senator WONG: Is the government prepared to guarantee that people will have answers to those applications by a time frame—for example, at the end of the month prior to ADF withdrawal?

Senator Payne: Sorry, Senator, could you say that again?

Senator WONG: I am trying to ascertain if the government is prepared to guarantee that the applications from those who have worked with us in Afghanistan for humanitarian visas, as we've previously discussed, will be resolved before ADF withdrawal.

Senator Payne: We will process the applications which come to DFAT for certification. Defence will process the applications which go to Defence for certification. That is how the regulations, as I understand it, work. I have previously certified such requests in both my ministerial capacities. We will do those on a priority basis as soon as possible—as soon as the requests are received—and then Home Affairs makes the visa decision process.

Senator WONG: Yes, I understand that. Is government going to say, 'We want all of this done by X or Y date,' or is no-one prepared to do that?

Senator Payne: Senator, I can't speak for Home Affairs.

Senator WONG: No, but you could talk to Mr Dutton and say, 'Let's get this done by a certain date.'

Senator Payne: Mr Dutton is the Minister for Defence. I could speak to Minister Andrews.

Senator WONG: Sorry—Ms Andrews.

Senator Payne: And we will have a number of cohorts, as I said. We have cohorts where visas are granted, where visa applications are submitted, and where the application process is underway. We want to finalise all of those as soon as possible for all of those people.

Senator WONG: The words are good, but is anyone prepared to give a time frame?

Senator Payne: Senator, I can't give you a time frame—

Senator WONG: No, I figured that. No-one will.

Senator Payne: because that part of the process is not in my gift. But it's the government's—

Senator WONG: No, but you could. You're a minister and ministers can say to departments, 'We want all of this done by X and Y date.'

Senator Payne: I just said 'as soon as possible'.

Senator WONG: That's what ministers can do. That's what Minister Andrews and you could do.

Senator Payne: I can't commit to processing applications that have not been received. All the applications that are received will be processed as soon as possible as the utmost priority from DFAT and, I am sure, from the Department of Defence, because that is the approach they are taking. Not everybody wants to make an application, but, for those who do, we want to support those who qualify.

Senator WONG: The US and the UK are also looking at assistance with evacuation and assistance with bringing people back to the relevant country. Have we considered anything in those terms?

Mr Cowan : The policy that the government has is to do several things, as the minister has described. One is to give priority to processing those visas within the humanitarian cohort. Once they have a visa, then they are enabled to have an exemption to travel to Australia, and then they will take commercial options to travel to Australia.

Senator Payne: There's no question, however, around exemptions, if I can be very clear. If there are visas granted, there will be exemptions.

Senator WONG: So we won't take the path that the UK and the US are contemplating?

Senator Payne: That has not been raised in my discussions so far, no.

Senator WONG: You could raise it.

Senator Payne: In terms of the requests that I understand to have been received, it's not an issue. But if it were an issue then I would certainly consider it.

Senator WONG: There are self-evidently, apart from the ethical and moral implications, other implications from our treatment of these people, are there not? They'll feel betrayed, but, as importantly, how we deal with this will impact on our ability to recruit staff in third countries in the future—that's correct, isn't it?

Senator Payne: Yes, it is. I think it's reflected also in the fact that we've granted over a thousand of these visas over time—in fact, I think around 1,200 of these visas in the past eight or so years. It does absolutely go to Australia's engagement with locally engaged staff and the work that we do together. I think the secretary would like to add to that.

Ms Adamson : I would; thank you. We pride ourselves around the world on being a good employer of local staff not just in accordance with local labour law but in accordance with the values that we bring as Australians. I want to emphasise that, because our locally engaged staff are incredibly loyal and incredibly capable. They have demonstrated extraordinary commitment always, but particularly during this COVID period. I want to acknowledge that their working environment is often substantially more difficult than our own.

Senator WONG: Absolutely. I'm going to move now to Myanmar.

Senator Payne: Before you do, if I may—

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Payne: I want to say in the context of this discussion that there is an absolute recognition by me and also on the part of the government that this is, and has been, a very difficult decision. But the provision of the security advice that we received—the combination of military and other security advice—and the time lines that we were given for the only practical means for DFAT to implement the requirements post the provision of that security advice, frankly, put us in a very difficult position. There is an absolute recognition on the part of the government of the contribution that Australia has made in Afghanistan, including the sacrifice.

CHAIR: We're having meaningful looks at each other. Is there going to be a question?

Senator Payne: No, I was making a statement. And so—

Senator WONG: And I was being respectful.

Senator Payne: the basis of that decision, Senator, is not one taken lightly at all. I would hope that there is a prospect sooner rather than later of returning.

Senator WONG: I didn't go to it, because this has been such a long discussion, but there was discussion of the new chapter. It's hard to envisage what that looks like at this stage. Let's be honest: I know that there are fine words, but it is hard to envisage how that looks. But that's probably a discussion for another day.

Senator Payne: No, we are working very hard on how that looks.

Senator WONG: Sure. As I said, it's probably a discussion for another day. I appreciate the sentiment that you expressed. Should I—

Senator Payne: Myanmar?

Senator WONG: Although Senator Kitching is agitating—

Senator KITCHING: I just want to put on the record that I went for the 50th anniversary of Afghan-Australian diplomatic relations.

Senator Payne: You did. With Mr Wallace?

Senator KITCHING: I did, with Mr Wallace. I would like to put on the record my thanks to the mission there. It was fantastic, really. I felt it was a very privileged experience. The security guards, the interpreters we used, the mission staff—it was wonderful. So thank you, and I thank them too.

Ms Adamson : Thank you. We'll ensure that that is conveyed.

Senator KITCHING: President Ghani also informed me that he too has a rose garden.

Senator Payne: He does. He has a beautiful rose garden, as does Dr Abdullah Abdullah.

Senator WONG: Before I go to some of the issues which in part others have touched upon, I actually have some legal questions.

Senator Payne: Will we get Mr Newnham back?

Senator WONG: Well, sort of. I have submitted some questions on notice about the practice of Australian governments to recognise states rather than governments. There was a very interesting article by Mr Rothwell about this some time ago, and it did occur to me in the context of both Venezuela and also Myanmar that this issue arose. So I would like, if possible, for someone to explain to me what the status of the current arrangements are—the currently policy, the current approach.

Mr Newnham : We have a longstanding policy of recognising states, not governments. We do not extend or withhold formal recognition to new governments. Authorities conduct relations with new regimes to the extent and the manner which may be required by the circumstances in each case. This can include making statements in support of particular arrangements or developments.

Senator WONG: And this was a Hawke government decision, I think, in the late eighties—correct?

Mr Newnham : 1988—foreign minister Hayden, yes.

Senator Payne: That's a name I haven't heard for a while!

CHAIR: Foreign minister Hayden.

Senator WONG: Foreign minister Hayden, Prime Minister Hawke. That has been followed by successive Australian governments since, and there's been no change—is that correct?

Mr Newnham : That's my understanding, yes.

Senator WONG: I think you gave the pragmatic out—I don't mean that rudely—or the way in which that might be given effect. From time to time governments may make statements in support of particular arrangements, but that is short of decisions to recognise governments as opposed to states. That's the way to think about it?

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator WONG: Is that how we think about what happened in relation to Venezuela when the government recognised, as per the Trump administration's request, the opposition leader of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, as the interim president?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: Mr Newnham was looking nervously over his shoulder.

Mr Newnham : I was just wondering if a colleague might join me. I can attempt to answer your question. The decision to support Juan Guaido in assuming the position of interim president was a policy decision. It was made in the context of the dire situation in Venezuela, consistent with previous statements, and in good company. We've expressed support for Venezuela's opposition leader as interim president pending free and fair elections, but we do not acknowledge either side as a legitimate government in Venezuela.

Senator WONG: What is the actual technical act of recognising government? Is it the receipt of credentials? I'm not an international lawyer, so can someone—

Ms Adamson : It is a declaratory matter. Of course, the exchange of ambassadors flows—

Senator WONG: Is evidence of that, right.

Ms Adamson : Exactly.

Senator WONG: So is it your evidence that the coalition government has not declared Juan Guaido to be the president? I don't understand what the nuance is, actually. You tell me what you'd explain it as.

Mr Newnham : I would describe it as an expression of public support for the opposition leader as interim president pending free and fair elections.

Senator WONG: Right. But the credentials for the current ambassador remain, who is an ambassador from the formal government, shall I say.

Mr Newnham : That is my understanding.

Senator Payne: That's correct.

Senator WONG: That's useful in the context of Myanmar.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Ms Adamson : That, of course, is a matter for the sending state—those letters of credence and letters of—

Senator WONG: For the—

Ms Adamson : For the sending state—the letters of credence and letters of recall for an ambassador.

Senator WONG: I'm going to traverse some of the ground that Senator Rice traversed, but possibly in a slightly different way. There was evidence before the joint standing committee on trade on 13 May that the government's assessment at the time was that opposing additional sanctions wouldn't have a positive impact on the ground. I infer from your answers to her that that remains the government's assessment.

Mr Jadwat : As I said to Senator Smith earlier today, our assessment is that sanctions are not the right approach for the time being, but sanctions remain under active consideration.

Senator WONG: That wasn't what I was asking. The quote from the DFAT officer was that the government's assessment at the time was that imposing additional sanctions:

… would not have a positive impact on the ground. Our assessment is that it could potentially limit our ability to have influence.

I'm simply asking if that remains the government's assessment.

Mr Jadwat : I would characterise it—it may not be in the same words, but the view, I would suggest, is that our assessment remains that sanctions at this point in time would not be the right course of action and would not be in our national interest.

Senator WONG: Those are just high-level words.

Mr Jadwat : In terms of influence on the ground, what we are trying to do—

Senator WONG: They are not my words. I didn't use them. Someone else—Ms Worthaisong—used them.

Mr Jadwat : My colleague's views, I think, were expressed very clearly, and I think it represented a sensible appraisal of the situation at the time. That view remains consistent, in that we think sanctions, for the time being, are not the right course and that our focus is on finding a diplomatic solution and trying to support ASEAN in their efforts.

Senator WONG: Let's talk about that. In terms of ASEAN's approach—and I think the minister used this justification earlier—the minister mentioned that ASEAN states had not implemented sanctions, when the reality is that it is very rare for ASEAN states to sanction one another.

Senator Payne: Yes, and I acknowledged that.

Senator WONG: If our entire approach on sanctions is whether or not ASEAN nations sanction each other, that's going to have a particular outcome, isn't it?

Senator PAYNE: It's not just ASEAN, Senator; it's the region more broadly. But—

Senator WONG: Yes, Japan hasn't implemented sanctions. ASEAN states have also engaged with the national unity government. In fact, I think the foreign minister, Marsudi, whom you referenced, has in fact met with the foreign minister of the NUG on more than one occasion?

Mr Jadwat : We would have to take that on notice and check for you. We do have a list of countries that have engaged with the NUG. I don't have any figures yet on ASEAN engagement.

Senator WONG: It just seems to me that if you say our diplomacy should be ASEAN led, as a justification—

Senator Payne: Our diplomacy should be Australian led, Senator.

Senator WONG: I thought in your approach to this you wanted to duck in behind ASEAN, in terms of how you dealt with the Myanmar situation.

Senator Payne: I think Australia should be at the forefront of supporting ASEAN in its efforts.

Senator WONG: That's fine. So have you met with the NUG?

Senator Payne: No, I have not.

Senator WONG: I have.

Senator Payne: But Mr Jadwat indicated—

Senator WONG: Have you, Mr Jadwat?

Mr Jadwat : Yes. Yesterday.

Senator WONG: So it's at officer level. Certainly, the opposition has engaged, but not the government. I'm just making the point, Senator. If you have a situation where you're saying, 'We want to reflect, endorse and back in the way ASEAN is approaching it,' as a justification for not imposing sanctions, can you explain to me why ASEAN officials and foreign ministers at your level have engaged with the NUG but you don't wish to?

Senator Payne: Senator, I think you are—and I don't mean you are doing this purposefully—not representing the evidence fairly. I have been very clear that Australia will make decisions in Australia's national interests and based on the assessments and the information that we have available to us. We have a range of equities, a range of priorities to consider, in all our decision-making on this very difficult situation of the coup, the actions of the regime, the treatment of the NLD and court processes that are underway in relation to that, the establishment of the NUG, the operation of the CRPH, and our work with ASEAN. In all of those our discussions are comprehensive between me and the department and other relevant ministers in the government. But we will always make our decisions on the basis of where we identify Australia's national interests, and that's the approach we are taking.

Senator WONG: I think everybody would seek to do that, but what we believe might be in the national interest will differ. There will be legitimate views by people who are equally patriotic about what is in our national interest.

Senator Payne: No question; of course—on every subject under the sun, I would have thought.

Senator WONG: Your position is: we don't want additional targeted sanctions at this stage. Has Australia been able to engage with the Tatmadaw in order to press for the ending of violence against civilians?

Senator Payne: Through the engagement I referred to previously of the Vice Chief of the Defence Force with the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, through our post in Yangon and through public statements, we have urged that. That has been an absolutely consistent call that we have made.

Senator WONG: Is it DFAT's assessment that the Tatmadaw is more likely to respond positively to this quiet-diplomacy approach? If so, can you tell me what that assessment is based on?

Mr Jadwat : We're trying all avenues. We're trying to find ways to impress upon the Tatmadaw that they need to return to a path to democracy. That's not going to be easy. In terms of influencing them, as I said earlier, history has shown that they've been largely impervious to foreign influence. That's why we're trying to do whatever we can to support ASEAN in their endeavours to find a diplomatic solution. But in terms of engaging with them, we think it's important to keep those channels of communication open. In the case of the conversation that the Vice Chief of the Defence Force had with the Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar, it did lead to some positive results, in particular in relation to the consular case that we've spoken about.

Senator WONG: Well, being impervious to foreign influence might be as much an argument for as an argument against sanctions, because if no change in behaviour as a consequence of sanctions is likely then at least we join with the United Kingdom, the United States and others in being very clear about our position on human rights, at least in a declaratory sense.

Mr Jadwat : Well, they've been largely impervious over the past few decades. But in this case, with the ASEAN summit and those five points of consensus that the minister went through earlier, we thought that the fact that the Tatmadaw showed up and turned up at that meeting was an important development.

Senator WONG: True, but those two paths are not mutually exclusive.

Mr Jadwat : Well—

Senator WONG: Well, if they are—you looked at me sort of quizzically—perhaps you can explain that to me. I think it is possible to, as we all would, support what ASEAN is doing but at the same time press for more, if it is in one's judgement that it's in our national interest to do. So, I don't think it's reasonable to say, 'Either sanctions or back in ASEAN.' You can do both.

Mr Jadwat : I agree; you can do both. As I said earlier to Senator Smith, we haven't taken sanctions off the table. We're trying to find a way, first, to support ASEAN in its efforts to find a diplomatic solution, but we haven't taken the sanctions option off the table.

Senator WONG: The US, to date, I think—and please tell me if these numbers should be updated—has sanctioned 31 individuals and 17 entities, the United Kingdom has sanctioned nine individuals and three entities, Canada has sanctioned 25 individuals and 10 entities and the European Union has sanctioned 21 individuals and two entities. Can you tell me what you think it says to the Tatmadaw and/or the region that we are declining to do so?

Mr Jadwat : I can't speak for the Tatmadaw—

Senator WONG: But what is your assessment of that?

Mr Jadwat : In terms of what the Tatmadaw would think about Australia's position?

Senator WONG: Yes. What do you think it says?

Senator Payne: Every country, including those that you have cited and, in this particular case, our own, will make their own decisions about these matters. We have quite a different relationship with ASEAN, for example, to all of those countries that you have cited. That goes to the focus that we have on ASEAN centrality in the Indo-Pacific. But then the observations we have also made and the discussions we've also had on the prosecution of our own national interests obviously are the overarching approach that we take on these issues. I don't think you're comparing apples with apples—

Senator WONG: You can't possibly be suggesting that the US imposing sanctions indicates that they don't support ASEAN centrality.

Senator Payne: I didn't say that. Don't put words in my mouth.

Senator WONG: I thought that was what you were suggesting, that we have a different approach because we believe in ASEAN centrality. Well, so do all of those nations and it's specifically part of US policy in the region.

Senator Payne: I was not disputing that and I reject any characterisation that suggests that I was. But I do think that Australia's respect for the efforts of our partners who determine their own approaches to sanctions is not questioned. I'm not questioning it. I'm not disputing it either. But, ultimately, we will make decisions in our own interest.

Senator WONG: Just in terms of process, is it the foreign minister who is responsible for approving additional targeted sanctions?

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator WONG: In terms of legal decision-making, she or he, whoever it is at the time, is the decision-maker?

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator WONG: Have you ever provided advice in relation to additional sanctions options for Myanmar?

Mr Jadwat : We have provided submissions to the minister covering a range of policy issues on Myanmar.

Senator WONG: There were 390 civil society organisations based in Myanmar who wrote to you. I might have been out of the room when someone asked about that. Did Senator Smith ask about that?

Senator Payne: Senator Rice.

Senator WONG: The point I would make is that it's a very substantial number of people on the ground who consider that sanctions would have a positive impact on the situation in Myanmar.

Senator Payne: I acknowledged that in the earlier conversation with Senator Rice and acknowledged the views that we receive from multiple stakeholders, including organisations such as those who are signatories to this correspondence, and that we receive through the work of Mr Jadwat's area that our post in Myanmar engages with. They are all part of informing the approach and the views that we take, yes.

Senator WONG: Can I go back to the national unity government. Can you tell me what engagement officials have had with the NUG and at which level?

Mr Jadwat : I personally had an engagement with a representative of the national unity government just yesterday. My colleague Ms Worthaisong, who you mentioned earlier and who is the head of our Myanmar task force, has also spoken to a representative. We also had an additional discussion with them, I think, a few weeks before that. Because of safety and security considerations, we are not going to publicise the level or the people that we are talking to. We are concerned about their safety and security.

Senator WONG: The foreign minister of the NUG has made public some of her engagement and that it was not at that level.

Senator Payne: The breadth of the engagement across officials is, I think, constructive, but we would prefer not to identify those.

Senator WONG: It's been public that, as I said—

Senator Payne: It's ultimately a matter for her if she wishes to do that.

Senator WONG: But you've not met with her?

Senator Payne: No, Senator.

Senator WONG: Can you confirm, Mr Jadwat, that Daw Zin Mar Aung has met with the foreign ministers of Singapore and Indonesia?

Mr Jadwat : I'd have to check on that and clarify whether—

Senator WONG: Where is the head of the task force? Would she know?

Mr Jadwat : She's not here today at the hearing, no.

Senator WONG: What do you think we gain by not engaging at a more senior level with the NUG?

Mr Jadwat : What I can say is that, engaging with them at my level, I certainly had a very productive and constructive discussion. We've made very clear to their representatives Australia's steadfast support for the people of Myanmar. I made it very clear yesterday that we are all affected by the horrific scenes that we're seeing coming out of Yangon and other cities in Myanmar, that Australia has always been there for the people of Myanmar and always will be and that we're trying to find a solution—we're trying to find ways to de-escalate the situation and to stop the violence.

So, I think the discussions that we've had at my level—certainly at senior officials level—have been very constructive. It's certainly feeding into how we see our policy settings on Myanmar.

Senator WONG: Minister, what do you think Australia gains by you not engaging at your level?

Senator Payne: The advice that I have considered included commencing officials-level engagement with the National Unity Government. I indicated my view that we should monitor and review that on a case-by-case basis and that if other specific opportunities arose then I would consider those.

Senator WONG: Okay. There's obviously been a fair bit of media focus on the Myanmar permanent representative at the United Nations. Has Mr Fifield had any engagement with the permanent representative?

Senator Payne: He is an ongoing colleague, or was an ongoing colleague, and I believe they have, yes.

Senator WONG: Since the Myanmar permanent representative indicated that he was working to the NUG, has Mr Fifield had any engagement?

Senator Payne: Let me check on that. I'll take it on notice.

Senator WONG: That would be one way to demonstrate support for—or a declaration or an indication of a view.

Senator Payne: I'll take it on notice.

Senator WONG: Given our support for the five-point consensus, can someone tell me how we're supporting the five points?

Senator Payne: We have consistently supported the calls in each of the points that were agreed by the ASEAN Leaders' Meeting. We also announced, in relation to the humanitarian point, if I recall correctly, an additional amount of funding to the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management, which is more easily known as the AHA Centre, to contribute to that humanitarian approach.

After the leaders' meeting—and I think we should not underestimate the import of bringing that meeting together. It was a very significant gathering in the context of ASEAN's approach on this. It sent a very strong commitment from ASEAN members, in our view. I then wrote to our ASEAN counterparts to reiterate the need for progress in implementing those five points of consensus, as agreed by ASEAN leaders. I met with the chair, or at least the foreign-minister-level chair, the foreign minister of Brunei, in London at the time of the G7-plus, and we've been consistently reinforcing that we need to give these measures every opportunity to move to implementation.

Senator WONG: There is a UN special envoy. I understand that the ASEAN five points of consensus included an ASEAN chair envoy. I'm sorry if I've missed it, but has that occurred?

Senator Payne: It has not been finalised. I did say in earlier remarks that that is a significant priority, both for Australia and for the ASEAN group. There is, as I understand it, more than one suggested individual to take the role, and that has to be determined.

Mr Jadwat : Just to add to that, we understand that the Bruneian foreign minister and the ASEAN Secretary General will soon visit Myanmar to discuss next steps.

Senator WONG: Okay. Have you spoken to the UN special envoy, Minister?

Senator Payne: I met with Tom Andrews, who is an American. His specific title keeps eluding me. It is special rapporteur, not special envoy. I met with him in Washington in my recent visit, and I had spoken with him previously. I've previously met with the special envoy, Christine—

Senator WONG: Burgener?

Mr Jadwat : Schraner Burgener.

Senator Payne: Christine Schraner Burgener, yes.

Senator WONG: Has there been any reaction that you could advise us of from the State Administration Council in Myanmar—so the junta—to the five points?

Senator Payne: I will ask Mr Jadwat to respond to that.

Mr Jadwat : From what I understand, there have been mixed responses. Obviously, Min Aung Hlaing was there in Jakarta for the meeting, and we understand that when they came out of that meeting Min Aung Hlaing, the head of their military regime, had agreed to the final outcome. But, of course, we have also heard that, since he returned home to Myanmar, he has been less positive. I think, as the minister said, it's important that ASEAN's efforts to implement those five points of consensus are allowed to go forward. I think the visit by Dato Erywan, the Bruneian foreign minister, will be critical in helping to shape progress on that front and to try and impress upon the military to take forward their agreement to those five points of consensus.

CHAIR: We'll be moving to Senator Rice at 3.25.

Senator WONG: What is your anticipation of the RCEP ratification prospects?

Mr Jadwat : I would have to defer to my colleagues from OTN on that.

Ms Adamson : We normally deal with RCEP in detail in the trade session.

Senator WONG: This is a diplomatic point, though, given the situation—I mean in Myanmar.

Ms Adamson : In Myanmar—right.

Senator WONG: Given the situation in Myanmar, I'm just wondering whether or not you've considered the prospects of progress on ratification of RCEP.

Mr Jadwat : In terms of ratification, again, I would have to defer to my colleagues from OTN on how that is going more broadly. But certainly the issue in Myanmar will, I think, have an impact, and we will continue to raise concerns about Myanmar in RCEP forums.

Senator WONG: When did you start engaging with the NUG at official level?

Mr Jadwat : I would have to check on the exact date, but I think it was at least a couple of months ago.

Senator WONG: What precipitated that?

Mr Jadwat : We've been in ongoing discussion with the minister and the minister's office about how we take forward our policy settings, including engagement with voices for democracy in Myanmar, so it came out of that dialogue with the minister and her office.

Senator WONG: The 2021-22 bilateral allocation for Myanmar is $42.1 million, and the total Australian ODA is $95.5 million for the same year. How is this being reallocated in the wake of the coup?

Mr Jadwat : Since the coup and the minister's announcement on 7 March about redirecting our development assistance program to those who are most vulnerable and to the poor and also, I think, to communities such as the Rohingya, the team on the ground in Yangon have been working to reshape the program and redirect activities to make sure that—

Senator WONG: Can I just ask, on notice—I don't want a lot of words. I'm sorry. Can you tell me on notice, but can you also tell me: are we utilising multilateral channels? Tell me what they are, if so.

Mr Jadwat : Absolutely.

Senator WONG: I just have this final point to make. It's been—what is it, how any months?—four months—

Senator Payne: Since February.

Senator WONG: Yes, four months since the coup. We've declined to impose any sanctions, notwithstanding like-mindeds and partners. We've declined at a more senior level to meet with the NU government, the NUG, unlike other ASEAN members. I ask why we are being so passive about a coup with these implications in our region.

Senator Payne: I don't agree with your characterisation and I would reiterate the steps that we have taken, which Mr Jadwat has referred to and I have referred to. I would also reinforce, from our previous discussions, the work that we are doing across multiple levels in terms of international engagement and advocacy on these issues, including at the United Nations and—I can't remember whether my conversation with the Secretary-General was before or after the last estimates—including with the Secretary-General himself, and with the work that we are doing to strongly support the approach that ASEAN is taking as well. So I don't agree with your characterisation.

Senator WONG: As I said earlier, and I did have—

Senator Payne: In fact, you were not in the room, but I understand that there are a range of views around sanctions. I absolutely understand that, and we take those into account. But they are one option, or one tool, in this circumstance, and we'll make those decisions based on our feedback.

Senator WONG: Sure. Well, I place on the public record, as I referenced earlier, that I have had a meeting with Daw Zin Mar Aung. The request is for much more substantive action than the government is taking. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Rice, you have the call.

Senator RICE: I want to take us to the G7. Australia is attending the G7 meeting in the UK on 11 June. In May, the G7 agreed to phase out government funding for fossil fuel projects internationally, starting with an immediate ban on coal-power funding. Firstly, who's attending the G7 in June on behalf of Australia?

Senator Payne: The Prime Minister.

Senator RICE: Okay. And is Australia going to sign up to that G7 statement agreeing to phase out government funding for fossil fuel projects internationally?

Senator Payne: I'm not going to forward-run the Prime Minister's engagement at the G7. We are not a member of the G7. We are attending in the context of g7+. We in fact weren't asked, as I understand it, to sign the G7 foreign ministers' statement, and any decisions in relation to undertakings in the UK at those meetings will be a matter for the Prime Minister.

Senator RICE: So are we intending to remain silent on that statement, then? We've been invited, as you say, as part of the g7+. What diplomatic signal will it send to be turning up to the G7 but refusing to express support for this statement—a pretty significant statement?

Senator Payne: There are a vast number of issues covered in these forums. The list of issues which were covered in the discussions that I attended in London is a very long one in and of itself, many of them related to COVID recovery and sustainable COVID recovery in particular.

Senator RICE: Excuse me, Minister, I've got limited time. Can we stick to fossil fuels for the moment, and that's specifically—

Senator Payne: Well, Senator, to be very clear, we're not part of the negotiations of the G7 statement.

Senator RICE: But we're attending the G7 meeting, at which their—

Senator Payne: No, Senator. There is a G7 meeting and there is the g7+, and we are attending the g7+. I did not attend the G7 foreign ministers meeting. I attended the meeting which was the g7+—India, Korea, Australia and South Africa, if I recall correctly, plus the foreign minister of Brunei as the representative of the chairmanship of ASEAN currently.

Senator RICE: We've got the UK, the USA, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and the EU all moving to stop export credit agencies from funding fossil fuels. How can it be in Australia's interest to work against this momentum?

Mr Isbister : I don't think it's an issue of working against other countries; it's about how countries identify the ways they are going to accelerate efforts to get to net zero. The government has been clear that our approach is about investing in low-emissions technologies. We are working with a range of other countries, including a number of G7 countries, to establish those partnerships, including with the former—

Senator RICE: Can I cut to the chase. Yes, we are doing all of those things. But the G7 countries and other countries are agreeing to phase out government funding for fossil fuel projects internationally, and what I hear you saying is that Australia is unwilling to support such an international movement to be doing that.

Mr Isbister : As the minister said, the G7 is a leaders' event and that's a question to ask PM&C. For us, the approach the government has been clear that we are taking to date is how we work with other countries to bring down the cost of those technologies—

Senator RICE: This is specifically about government funding for fossil fuel projects internationally. It's not about what else we can be doing to reduce our carbon pollution; it's about supporting fossil fuel projects with government funding.

Mr Isbister : To be clear: with our development assistance program, we don't support any fossil fuel projects overseas. That is partly because the focus around how we accelerate those investments in renewables and other technologies is going to be critical in supporting those countries to meet their targets and get to net zero.

Senator RICE: In May this year the Asian Development Bank announced it would end all financing for coalmining, for power plants and for oil and gas production, Australia is one of one of the largest shareholders in the Asian Development Bank and sits on its board. What is Australia's current shareholding of the Asian Development Bank?

Mr Isbister : I would have to defer to our chief economist, Jenny Gordon. We can take that on notice and come back to you on that.

Senator RICE: Okay. Did Australia support or oppose the fossil fuel exclusion policy at the ADB executive board level?

Mr Isbister : If we wait, Dr Gordon will answer that.

Senator RICE: Okay. I will move on to something else while we are waiting. The OECD working group on export credits which is meeting this week to consider funding for fossil fuel projects from export credit agencies. What's Australia's current stance on Export Finance Australia funding or financing coal projects?

Ms Stylianou : There are very clear criteria set out for the way in which Export Finance Australia can support all resource related projects, including fossil fuels, which the projects must meet in order to qualify for funding. I can go through some of those, but there are certain criteria for that. The EFA is required to comply with OECD arrangements on officially supported export credits, which also limits restrictions on EFA's ability to support, in particular, coal-fired power plants.

Senator RICE: Are those criteria on the public record?

Ms Stylianou : Yes. In fact, I can read them to you if you'd like. In the case of the OECD arrangement, it prohibits support for larger, less-efficient coal-fired power plants while allowing support for smaller, less-efficient plants in poorer countries.

Senator RICE: Is it correct that one of the participants of this OECD working group circulated a paper advocating a phase-out of finance for all new coal plants and associated infrastructure?

Ms Stylianou : I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator RICE: What is the position of Australia, and of that working group, in regard to funding for gas projects?

Senator Payne: Senator, given the granularity of the group of which you are asking questions, will take that on notice as well.

Senator RICE: Presumably, the department is aware of moves from the US and the UK to restrict their export credit agencies from funding fossil fuel projects.

Ms Stylianou : I'll take your word for it, Senator.

Senator RICE: Have representatives of the US requested that Australia help it to end international financing of carbon intensive fossil fuel based energy, which is what they have said they want to do?

Ms Stylianou : Not to my knowledge, but I can take that one on notice.

Senator RICE: Have US representatives raised concerns about any Australian government plans to subsidise fossil gas expansion?

Ms Stylianou : I will take that on notice.

Senator RICE: What, if anything, is Australia actually doing to help the US to achieve this goal of ending international financing of carbon intensive fossil fuel based energy?

Mr Isbister : Senator, I might come in on that. I would come back to the point made earlier; the focus, including with the US, is how we are working together with them to invest in that next stage of technology investment so we can accelerate, not just our efforts, but that of the US and other countries to get to net zero.

Senator RICE: Yes. Over all—exactly. But, in terms of ending international financing of carbon intensive fossil fuel based energy, what is Australia doing to be working with the US—and in fact the UK government? Have we had representations from the UK to achieve that same goal?

Mr Isbister : As I said, there's a range of different fora that the issues are being discussed in, but what I can say is that within the OECD we actively engage constructively in the issue. We have a range of different views and perspectives about how that can be best delivered on. Our approach is very much that, if we are going to support developing countries and others to transition to lower emissions fuels and products, it's going to be getting the price points and the supply chains and that in place for them to be able to invest and achieve that goal.

Senator RICE: Is DFAT aware of the Export Finance for Future coalition?

Mr Isbister : No, I'm not.

Senator RICE: You're not? Seven European countries launched that in April to massively increase support for sustainable projects and to assess how to best phase out export financial support to oil and gas industries. You are not aware whether Australia has been invited to join that coalition?

Mr Isbister : It's probably a question to ask the department of industry.

Ms Stylianou : Senator, I also note that EFA are scheduled to appear tomorrow evening, so it may be a question—

Senator RICE: I might leave the rest of those questions then to that section. Can we come back to the questions I was asking before about the Asian Development Bank.

Dr Gordon : Can I ask you to repeat the question.

Senator RICE: Yes. Firstly, what is Australia's current shareholding in the Asian Development Bank?

Dr Gordon : I will get back to you within this session on that one.

Senator RICE: I also want to know whether we supported or opposed the fossil fuel exclusion policy at the ADB executive board level.

Dr Gordon : Currently, the ADB haven't had a board level discussion about their policy. It's in draft form. My understanding is that that discussion is scheduled for towards the end of this year.

Senator RICE: There was an announcement made last month that it would end all financing for coalmining and power plants, but you say that's only a draft?

Dr Gordon : There's a draft, yes. That was a proposal.

Senator RICE: Okay. I'll leave it there because I'm running out of time. I want to move on to Israel and Palestine. Minister, you made a statement on 12 May that called for a 'halt to actions that increase tensions' in Israel-Palestine, 'including land appropriations, forced evictions, demolitions and settlement activity'. Have we communicated that to the Israeli government?

Senator Payne: These are matters which we have raised consistently. I'm just trying to find the statement of 12 May, because there are a number of statements. I don't have the 12 May statement with me.

Senator RICE: Your most recent one, I think.

Senator Payne: No. There's a statement—well, there are statements to the UN as well, but for some reason I don't have the 12 May statement.

Senator RICE: So you say you consistently—

Senator Payne: But we do consistently communicate that. Yes, I do. And we do consistently communicate that, yes.

Senator RICE: At what level has that been communicated and by whom? When did we communicate previously?

Senator Payne: Previously it was at the level of Prime Minister to Prime Minister. I might say that was before changes—or reported changes—last night. Previously it was from foreign minister to foreign minister; between officials and in Tel Aviv.

Senator RICE: So there would have been a communication making that statement after your statement on 12 May?

Senator Payne: That would have gone to the Israeli embassy here and it would have been provided through our post in Tel Aviv as well.

Senator RICE: In estimates previously, officials have refused to be explicit that the Australian government considers the unilateral annexation of territory in the West Bank as illegal under international law. Is that still the government's position?

Senator Payne: I will ask officials to respond to that but I'm not sure I agree with your characterisation. I will ask Mr Hayes to respond.

Senator RICE: If you are willing to say that it was definitely illegal under international law, I would be very happy to hear that.

Mr Hayes : Australia's concerns about annexation and our call for a return to negotiations is consistent with international law and the UN Security Council resolutions.

Senator RICE: Yes, that's what you've told me previously. But you have refused to be explicit that it is illegal under international law.

Mr Hayes : We don't take a position on the legality under international law.

Senator RICE: So you are not willing to state that. Okay. I just wanted to check that was still the case. That's extremely disappointing, as I said last time. What representations has the Australian ambassador made to the Israeli government over the forced eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood?

Senator Payne: I will take that on notice.

Senator RICE: What representations has the ambassador made to the Israeli government regarding the attack on the Al-Jalal tower, housing and the Al Jazeera and Associated Press offices?

Senator Payne: I will take that on notice. In relation to the Al Jazeera office, I recall issuing a statement which indicated that we were concerned about the impact on freedom of the press, to paraphrase that, but I will find the exact words for you.

Senator RICE: What representations have we made to the Israeli government over the high rate of civilian casualties in Gaza, including the deaths of over 60 children?

Senator Payne: If you would care to refer to our statements in the United Nations of 20 May and 16 May and the public statements which have been made and, indeed, the statement that you referred to of 12 May, you will see that we have commented on those issues in, if not every one, almost every one of those statements.

Senator RICE: Can you take on notice what actual representations to the Israeli government you made? You said they were statements to the UN.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator RICE: The department, I am sure, is aware of the Human Rights Watch report, A threshold crossed: Israeli authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution. Has the department provided a briefing on that report to you, Minister?

Senator Payne: Not that I have seen. But I may stand to be corrected. So, if you prefer, I will take that on notice.

Senator RICE: Perhaps somebody from the department might recall?

Mr Hayes : The department has not provided a briefing to the minister on the Human Rights Watch report.

Senator RICE: Why not? It's a very significant major international human rights organisation concluding that the Israeli government is committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution. You don't think that would be an appropriate thing for the minister to be briefed about?

Mr Hayes : Australia values the contribution that Human Rights Watch makes as an important civil society voice on human rights matters. A number of the issues that have been raised in the Human Rights Watch report are issues that Australia raises regularly with Israel, and the report was shared with the minister and her office.

Senator RICE: Sorry, I missed your last bit.

Mr Hayes : The report was of course shared with the minister and her office.

Senator RICE: Does the Australian government agree with the Human Rights Watch assessment:

Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy.

Senator Payne: There is a range of observations made in that report and in many other reports which are provided to us by human rights NGOs. We don't comment on every observation and every suggestion in those reports.

Senator RICE: Can I return briefly to the subject of India. I had a couple of follow-up questions from Senator Wong's questions this morning about the Indian repatriation. I particularly want to go to the first repatriation flight from India, where there were 46 positive tests for COVID. The Prime Minister subsequently said that some of those positive results may not have been positive. So there was a risk of false positives. Qantas said that it reran the tests and confirmed that the results were positive. Does DFAT or the government believe that assessment is correct?

Ms Wood : Senator, I apologise. I didn't catch the second half of your question. Would you mind repeating it?

Senator RICE: Basically, it's about the issue of false positives. Qantas says it reran the tests and confirmed that the results were correct—that the results were positive. Does DFAT or the government believe that that assessment is correct in terms of the number of positive COVID results from that first repatriation flight?

Senator Payne: We did discuss this at length earlier, including with Senator Wong. Both the secretary and Ms Wood provided responses to those questions, but I'll ask if they have anything further to add.

Ms Wood : I could certainly respond on some of the issues that Senator Wong asked about this morning and read those into the record if you're happy with that.

Senator RICE: Yes. Basically, I just wanted to know: with that assessment by Qantas rerunning the tests and confirming that the results were positive, does DFAT agree that those tests were accurate?

Ms Wood : We have no reason to hold a different opinion to Qantas. Qantas are responsible for those tests, and they manage the process. I'm not in a position—I'm not qualified—to provide any other judgement than the one that Qantas has arrived at.

Senator RICE: Is it true that far fewer people were bumped from subsequent flights after the first one?

Ms Wood : Yes.

Senator Payne: That's a matter of record.

Senator RICE: Yes. So how many people were precluded from flying in subsequent flights because of the positive tests of potential passengers?

Ms Wood : I will need to get back to you on notice.

Senator RICE: But it was a far lower rate than the first flight?

Ms Wood : That's correct.

Senator RICE: The first flight had 46 of 150. Did the department provide any advice or briefing to the minister about the risk of false positives?

Senator Payne: Senator, I think the context of your questions is not about whether I'm provided with advice about the risk of false positives. There is, I would have thought, a range of risks attached to COVID testing and to COVID itself around the world, self-evidently. The mechanisms which Qantas have put in place, following the government's decision to resume flights after the pause, are about ensuring that we are minimising the number of people who fly with COVID-19 and any transmission.

Senator RICE: Yes. What I want to go to is that, given the big discrepancy between the number of people who tested positive for that first flight and the numbers for the other ones, it really looks as if those first tests were inaccurate and there were false positives. Did you tell anybody who was barred from travelling that the result may have been a false positive?

Senator Payne: In the discussions held at length in this room earlier today, there was significant information placed on the record by Ms Wood about our communications with passengers and about the work that we are doing, including the presence of an AUSMAT medical professional in India who has been assisting with the health and public health aspects, if you like, of this process. This is a process which Qantas has been undertaking around the world for its flights for some time now. In this case, we were commencing a new process in a country with a severely strained health system at the time. In fact, it was a critical point. The process, I think, has resolved itself to a point where the pre-quarantine period in the hotel, the PCR testing, the rapid antigen testing and—

Senator RICE: Minister, I want to go to the issue of that initial flight.

CHAIR: Time has well and truly passed, Senator Rice.

Senator Payne: But, Senator, DFAT does not have the capacity to advise you on whether there were false positives or not.

CHAIR: I've been quite patient. This is the last question.

Senator RICE: Does the government still believe that the initial positive tests—

Senator Payne: DFAT does not have the capacity to provide you with advice on the nature of the false positives or not-false positives. It is simply not within our purview.

Pr oceedings suspended from 15:49 to 16:07

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

Senator KITCHING: I have some questions on the foreign relations act.

Senator Payne: We will get Mr Newnham back.

Senator KITCHING: On 21 April, the department was notified of over a thousand arrangements. How many arrangements have been provided to the department for review in toto since the act came into effect?

Mr Newnham : In total, as of 28 May, we had 3,532 arrangements notified, and they're broken down into 401 core arrangements, 2,998 non-core arrangements and 16 core prospective arrangements.

CHAIR: This was canvassed earlier.

Senator KITCHING: I know, but I think—

CHAIR: Fine. Keep on.

Senator KITCHING: Four arrangements have been cancelled?

Mr Newnham : That's correct. Could I clarify, though: four decisions have been taken to cancel four validly notified arrangements. There have actually been two additional arrangements that should have been notified by 10 March. They failed to be notified by 10 March and are therefore automatically invalidated under the act. So that's not a decision by the foreign minister as such, but it is an automaticity under the act.

CHAIR: On that, if I may ask, are we allowed to know who with and what those two arrangements were?

Mr Newnham : We're allowed to know one of them. It might actually be easier, Senator, if I come back to you with those details.

Senator Payne: Provide them in an appropriate form.

Mr Newnham : One is confidential and one is not.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Kitching.

Senator KITCHING: Could you tell me what the four arrangements are?

Mr Newnham : Yes, I can.

CHAIR: Your home state of Victoria heads the list, I suggest.

Senator KITCHING: I think I made my view clear on that.

Mr Newnham : Senator, the four decisions taken on 21 April—the first one, in no particular order, is the Department of Education and Training Victoria and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Islamic Republic of Iran. The second was the Ministry of Higher Education in the Syrian Arab Republic and the Victorian Ministry of Tertiary Education and Training. The third was the government of Victoria and the National Development and Reform Commission of the People's Republic of China. The fourth was the government of Victoria and the National Development and Reform Commission of the People's Republic of China—there are two separate arrangements there.

CHAIR: What is it about the state of Victoria and dictatorships, Senator Kitching?

Senator KITCHING: I do have views on that, but maybe that's for another time.

CHAIR: That was just rhetorical, my apologies.

Senator KITCHING: In the case of those four arrangements, did they have legal weight or legal effect?

Mr Newnham : What I can say about those four arrangements is that they were notified by the state of Victoria on the basis that they considered them current and ongoing with the propensity for those arrangements to be relied upon. As to the legal effect of those, I think that would be a judgement beyond the expertise I would be able to provide. The state certainly considered them ongoing and current.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. Has the department received notification of the 2011 agreement struck by the government of Western Australia and China's National Development and Reform Commission?

Mr Newnham : We have been notified of that arrangement.

Senator KITCHING: Do you know when you were notified?

Mr Newnham : I couldn't be sure of the exact date of that. We're receiving these at a fairly high clip.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, I can imagine.

Mr Newnham : On the basis of the parties to that arrangement, it would have needed to have been in before 10 March—to give you a sense of time frame.

Senator KITCHING: The National Development and Reform Commission—is one of its activities to oversee the administration of the social credit system?

Mr Newnham : Senator, I'd defer to colleagues about the exact role in a domestic setting. What I can say is that, like many other notified arrangements, we continue to work our way through the substance of these arrangements, the parties to them, the content and commitments made underneath them.

Senator KITCHING: You haven't reviewed that one?

Mr Newnham : I'd probably want to just caution against saying we haven't reviewed it. We have looked at it at some level and at all of the notifications that have been provided to the federal government. I made a point this morning of saying there's really a four-stage process that we work our way through. One is screening, one is triage, one is assessment and one is formal advice to the minister in rare, but some, circumstances as was the case with the four arrangements that were cancelled on 21 April. There are probably multiple levels of review of those arrangements, some that are coming in on a daily basis at the moment in very cursory form, and some in deeper form.

Senator KITCHING: This agreement, the WA agreement with the National Development and Reform Commission, have you sighted that document?

Mr Newnham : If it's the one that I think it is, yes, we've got that. Because it has to be validly notified, we have to have had the content of the arrangement notified as part of the notification.

Ms Lawson : Senator, just to answer your question—the NDRC has been the lead agency on the social credit system.

Senator KITCHING: The repressive social credit system, yes. But you haven't formed a view on that agreement? I'm talking about the 2011 agreement.

Mr Newnham : No, we have not, but, to be fair, that's not unusual. There are quite a number that we haven't landed yet.

Senator KITCHING: Do you think it might be inconsistent with Australia's—

Senator Payne: I don't think we're going to speculate.

Senator KITCHING: It's listed on the public register, but that doesn't mean it's been approved?

Mr Newnham : No. I want to be clear: the public register is basically the so-called tick of approval from the federal government that the arrangement has been validly notified under the scope of the legislation.

Senator KITCHING: But just notified?

Mr Newnham : Exactly. There is no decision point or judgement of that, other than that it is within the scope of the legislation and it's been validly notified.

Senator KITCHING: I just note the BRI MOU with the state of Victoria was cancelled.

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: You've formally taken notice of it. What's the time frame?

Mr Newnham : Coming out of that second stage, the triage process, we identify those arrangements that are very unlikely to meet the test under the legislation, those that might—I'd put them in the middle category—and those that have a higher likelihood and a higher priority for assessment under the legislation. That is a rolling series of judgements as we work our way through that four-stage process, because we're getting notified about large numbers of these arrangements at any given time. As you would perhaps appreciate, the 10 March deadline for core arrangements came first. The 10 June deadline for non-core arrangements came second. That is intentional, because it goes to those arrangements conducted by states and territories with foreign national governments. They are, to be frank, of a higher priority because of the early attention needed to work our way through them.

Senator KITCHING: What was the beginning of that sentence? You were working through where you had higher priority?

Mr Newnham : Yes. The legislation contemplates an earlier time line for those core arrangements to be notified because they involve state and territory governments with foreign national governments. They were always contemplated as so-called core arrangements that had—

Senator KITCHING: Can you give me an example of a core arrangement?

Mr Newnham : The arrangements that were cancelled on 21 April are examples of core arrangements. To be clear: they are between a state and territory—it could be a department of education or it could be a treasury—and a foreign national government.

Senator KITCHING: Isn't the Western Australian agreement with the same entity that the BRI MOU was made with?

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: What's the difference? Why was the Victorian one looked at but the Western Australian one with the same entity wasn't?

Mr Newnham : Whilst I won't go into the substance of any individual arrangement, the triage process, followed by an assessment at a deeper level, goes to the categories of arrangements that are a higher priority for an assessment against the test in the legislation. That identifies those that are in the category of being more likely to reach that threshold in the legislation. There's another category of those that I would say are less clear and are worthy of a deeper level of assessment as soon as possible, and then there is a category of those that would be less likely. We had the 10 March time frame. These were all notified at the same time. Your point is that some have had decisions, some have not. That is absolutely the case. It continues to be and will be for a while. We continue to work our way through the groups of arrangements that we have identified that need that deeper level of assessment. That is ongoing.

Senator KITCHING: Did you think the Victorian government was more likely to act on the BRI agreement than the Western Australian government? Is that what gave it the higher priority?

Senator Payne: That's not a function of the assessment process.

Mr Newnham : No. The way I would categorise it is that, based on that assessment of the data provided by the states about the arrangement—in some cases there were those additional section 51 complex factors that we needed to take into account—we identified those arrangements that had a higher likelihood of reaching the threshold in the legislation—the threshold being inconsistency with foreign policy or adverseness to foreign relations. I wouldn't want to give the impression that that process somehow concludes after these first four decisions; I think that process is ongoing.

Senator KITCHING: I was going to ask you if the fact that the Western Australian agreement is a 2011 agreement and the Victorian BRI agreements are, from memory, 2017 and 2019—

Mr Newnham : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: So it didn't have anything to do with the fact that one is an older agreement and, I think, not acted on?

Mr Newnham : I can assure you it didn't have anything to do with the date of the arrangements. I would note that the Syrian and Iranian arrangements were actually even older than the WA ones as well.

Senator KITCHING: Yes. The federal government has an MOU on the BRI with the Chinese government. Is that meeting the threshold?

Mr Newnham : I'll ask my colleague Ms Lawson to assist here, but what I would say, just to be very clear, is that the legislation does not apply to the federal government and federal government arrangements. It applies to state and territory, public university and local government arrangements with foreign counterparts, so any arrangement at the federal government level would not be covered by the legislation. But I could ask Ms Lawson, on the status question you had, to perhaps assist.

Ms Lawson : What was your question?

Senator KITCHING: The federal government has an arrangement on the BRI.

Ms Lawson : We don't have a BRI MOU; we have an MOU covering cooperation in third-party markets—

Senator KITCHING: Yes, the third-party markets with the CCP.

Ms Lawson : which is about facilitating cooperation between different businesses. It's not a BRI MOU. I can give you our position on the BRI.

Senator KITCHING: My understanding is that it's an MOU on the Belt and Road Initiative in third countries with the Chinese government.

Ms Adamson : No, that's not what it's called, I think.

Ms Lawson : I'm not sure what you mean, Senator.

Ms Adamson : It's a focus on working in third countries.

Senator Payne: Yes, so it's not a MOU.

Ms Adamson : It's not a BRI focused thing at all; it's about working in third countries, as I recall—

Senator Payne: That's correct, yes.

Ms Adamson : on joint infrastructure projects. But let me hand over to Ms Lawson.

Ms Lawson : That's exactly right. It's not about the Belt and Road Initiative.

Senator KITCHING: I thought it was. I'm quoting from former Minister Ciobo, and he says:

And that MOU was to look at ways in which China and Australia could cooperate, in a range of areas including BRI, in third countries.

Ms Lawson : That refers to the government's position on the Belt and Road Initiative, which is that we would support projects which were of commercial merit and had the right transparency and other standards in place and that happen to be BRI projects, but we don't support the BRI platform. So it's a way of facilitating commercial arrangements which might happen to be BRI arrangements—they might have that label—but we're not signing up to the BRI platform.

Senator KITCHING: I understand the distinction.

Senator Payne: To the best of my knowledge, there has been nothing enacted or progressed in any recent times at all under that—

Senator KITCHING: Nothing at all?

Senator Payne: Not in any recent time, no.

Ms Adamson : It was more about, if we think back to the times—times do change a bit—

Senator KITCHING: Yes, I know. I agree with you.

Ms Adamson : If we think back to the times, it was about us having a very strong sense of the principles that would surround what we might call productive infrastructure spending. That would go to the financing arrangements, the environmental issues, the merit of the project and all the rest of it. So it was a willingness to work together. The BRI part was, to my recollection—I had an interest in this at the time—very incidental. That wasn't the focus of it. The focus was on the ways in which our companies might undertake investments in infrastructure should they ever find themselves aligned, and, as the minister has just said, that alignment has not in fact been forthcoming.

Senator KITCHING: Can you table that document?

Ms Adamson : No, I don't think we can. It can only be done with the consent of the other side.

Ms Lawson : We don't have the consent of the Chinese side to table that document.

Senator KITCHING: And its contents went to Australian businesses being able to cooperate with—

Ms Adamson : Yes. The idea that our companies' high standards of infrastructure spending might be able to, I suppose, have an impact through the quality of their work, including with Chinese partners. That was the focus of it. The thinking of the time was the ability to work together. From Australia's perspective, the BRI element of it, if you like, was not a factor at all. It wasn't about that, as I recall. In the preamble area, it was a passing reference in the acknowledgement of the importance of it to China. It was not the focus of attention of it at all.

Senator KITCHING: Have you asked the Chinese Communist Party to release the document—that is, to allow it to be released publicly?

Ms Lawson : We have not yet got approval from the National Development and Reform Commission, which is the relevant agency, to release that document.

Ms Adamson : We did seek that earlier. I was ambassador at the time, I think. It was not forthcoming.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

CHAIR: If that is a break in proceedings, we may as well go to Senator Faruqi now for 15 minutes.

Senator FARUQI: Good afternoon. According to the information from DFAT, the total budget for aid to the Palestinian territories in the financial year 2020-21 was reduced to $29.8 million and, as far as I know, that includes $10 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Could you give a preliminary detailed breakdown of disbursement by contract for the remaining $19.8 million?

Mr Hayes : Could I clarify, you are after a breakdown of our Palestinian territories development program for this financial year?

Senator FARUQI: Last financial year.

Mr Hayes : 2019-20?

Senator FARUQI: 2020-21.

Mr Hayes : The current financial year.

Senator FARUQI: We're almost finished, but, yes.

Mr Hayes : We break the program up into what we consider the bilateral part of the program. That is the $17.1 million that you referred to. The breakdown of that is, as announced by the minister earlier this year—

Senator FARUQI: Isn't the $17.1 million for 2021-22 for the Middle East?

Mr Hayes : It is the same next year in the forecast.

Senator FARUQI: So it is not $19.8 million?

Mr Hayes : No.

Senator FARUQI: I thought it was reduced to $29.8 million and $10 million of that was the UN Relief And Works Agency. I was wanting the breakdown of the rest of it, which is $19.8 million.

Mr Hayes : Yes. Indeed. That's what I was going to go through. So $29.8 is, indeed, correct. The breakdown of that is $10 million to UNRWA, which you referred to. Then there's $17.1 for our bilateral program and then there is an estimate of $2.7 million for our global flows, but that won't be clear until later in the calendar year. Global flows, of course, refers to core funding to multilateral partners and others that has a benefit within the territory.

Within the $17.1 million, the break down is: $1 million to the World Health Organization; $8.9 million to the ICRC, though the minister has announced this morning that we will be providing an additional $3 million to ICRC as a result of the recent conflict and humanitarian need in Gaza; $2 million to the United Nations office for project services, and the minister has announced a further $2 million this morning; $3.6 million for AMENCO 3, the Australia Middle-East NGO Cooperation Agreement; and $1.6 million for the Australia Awards Scholarships program. With the budget estimate published figures that you referred to, which comes to $29.8, as a result of the minister's announcement this morning, the total estimate will be $34.8 million.

Senator FARUQI: What about the 2021-22 financial year? That's $17.1 million as well, you said. Obviously that doesn't include the UN relief funding.

Mr Hayes : That's right. For next financial year, the budget allocation for the bilateral program component is $17.1 million, plus up to $10 million for UNRWA, plus an estimate for global flows of $2.7 million. I can't give you the breakdown of the $17.1 million for next financial year, because those allocations are yet to be determined.

Senator FARUQI: You said the AMENCA program had been extended and there was $3 million for it?

Mr Hayes : No.

Senator FARUQI: That was from last year's?

Mr Hayes : Yes.

Senator FARUQI: So there is as yet no announcement of an AMENCA 2 program?

Mr Hayes : The AMENCA 3 program is due to finish its five-year term this calendar year.

Senator FARUQI: Sorry, AMENCA 3.

Mr Hayes : It was due to finish on 30 June, but we extended it by, I think, three months, to allow the completion of some work packages that had been impacted by COVID.

Senator FARUQI: And that's not going to be extended beyond that, or is there still a possibility that it might be, given the deep impacts of COVID-19 and the conflict?

Mr Hayes : As I mentioned, the allocations for next financial year are yet to be determined, but, at this stage, it's not our intention to seek a fourth phase of AMENCA.

Senator FARUQI: Is DFAT consulting with accredited Australian NGO agencies implementing projects in Gaza about their emergency needs?

Mr Hayes : Yes.

Senator FARUQI: Which agencies are you consulting with?

Mr Hayes : If I can take that on notice, we can certainly get you that information. We have a representative office in Ramallah, and a fairly significant part of their role is that kind of engagement.

Senator FARUQI: I have a few questions on the TRIPS waiver. In early May the government kind of hemmed and hawed on whether it would even partially reverse its longstanding opposition to the TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 related intellectual property. The government still isn't supporting the full TRIPS waiver, or is it?

Ms Adamson : The Prime Minister has welcomed that. That's quite a technical issue being played out in the World Trade Organization. In terms of the colleagues that we have available to speak to that, they're really coming during the Trade session tomorrow night and would be ready to speak about that in whatever detail you'd like. But we've been supportive of it at a general level. That's what the Prime Minister has said. As you'd be aware, there are a variety of views amongst a range of countries which are quite influential in this area around the world. The question is whether the WTO will move to what are called text based negotiations. The very person I was not expecting to be here until tomorrow night, James Baxter, is here and can pick up from where I have, I hope, reasonably led in. But let me leave it to you, James.

CHAIR: Well, the first question has to be: what are you doing here early!

Ms Adamson : He's very keen!

CHAIR: So it seems.

Senator FARUQI: I'm still unclear. What is the government's position on a TRIPS waiver? Does the government support waiving intellectual property on vaccinations, as a bare minimum?

Mr Baxter : Just to pick up on what the secretary has said, if I may: the Prime Minister has made clear that we have welcomed an important move by the United States, which is to support the idea of a TRIPS waiver. We have been in discussions on the waiver for a number of months, seeking to identify how, in practical terms, that will support widespread and equitable access to vaccines, including by the least developed countries around the world. That's a discussion that has been ongoing. There has been no decision called for yet, so we haven't formally had to indicate whether we support a particular approach or not. What we have said, though, is that we do support a move to concrete discussions, including on the text of a possible decision to be taken by WTO members on this issue. We haven't prejudged any particular outcome in those discussions, because there are a number of different suggestions by different WTO members about what in fact will have the most practical impact in terms of the operation of intellectual property rules and how they can support what we have described, again, as our objective, which is widespread and equitable access to vaccines.

Senator FARUQI: You do know that India's ambassador to the WTO has said the refusal to remove intellectual property barriers has cost two million lives. A hundred countries are asking us to support that waiver. I'm still completely unclear what it means that our government has welcomed the US's decision. What is the government's position on this? From what I understand, there's not support for the waiver.

Mr Baxter : It is not correct that we do not support the waiver.

Senator FARUQI: So do we support the waiver?

Mr Baxter : We have said we are open to any solution, including a possible waiver, that will support widespread and equitable access to vaccines.

Senator Payne: Senator, you would agree, I am sure, that the sensible thing for a government to do is to examine a technical proposal when it's put before the World Trade Organization. What we are able to do at this point is make the indication the Prime Minister has made.

Senator FARUQI: When is the decision going to be made on this? There is a meeting, I understand, on 8 or 9 June?

Senator Payne: A meeting of what?

Senator FARUQI: There's a TRIPS Council meeting?

Mr Baxter : That's correct, and the proponents of the trips waiver proposal including India have called for a move to text based negotiations. There are a number of members, and Australia is not one of these members, who are resisting a move to text based negotiations. Now, until all members agree that those negotiations can take place, there will not be progress towards a decision that members could make, so it will not happen. My judgement would be this is not something that is going to be resolved at that meeting but there will be a discussion on whether or not members are prepared to move to those text based negotiations.

Senator Payne: In terms of Australia's engagement, I discussed this with our ambassador in Geneva, George Mina, and also with the Director-General of the WTO, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, whenever that was—three weeks ago—just after the USTR made her statement.

Senator FARUQI: So we have no time line on this, as far as I understand. In the meantime, people just keep dying. Doesn't Australia have some kind of leverage if we make a strong position and a decision on it to push this forward?

Senator Payne: We are supporting, as Mr Baxter has said. But the lack of a technical proposal at this point, as Mr Baxter also said, if I understand him correctly—I am absolutely prepared to concede this is not my strong suit—the lack of agreement of parties to agree to—what was the formal term, Mr Baxter?

Mr Baxter : Text based negotiations.

Senator Payne: Text based negotiations is one of the challenges. We have identified those. Minister Tehan and I are supportive of addressing those and that's what we are trying to do.

Senator FARUQI: Is Australia encouraging those countries who are resisting a move to text based negotiations to come to the table?

Senator Payne: That's what I just said.

Senator FARUQI: So are you talking to those countries who are not willing to come to the table?

Senator Payne: I don't have the detail of the engagement here and I know officials were going to be answering these in greater detail tomorrow. If Mr Baxter wishes to add anything, I am sure he will.

Mr Baxter : In addition to what the minister has said, the fact that the Prime Minister welcomed the move by the United States to move to text based negotiations goes precisely to the question you are asking. The lack of a US position or the lack of clarity about the US position prior to that announcement was, as I'm sure you would understand, throwing a major shadow over the possible progress of these discussions. We have been trying to move these discussions forward to a practical end as quickly as possible; therefore the Prime Minister welcomed that as a very positive announcement. He has spoken to his counterparts—as the minister said—she has spoken to her counterparts and the trade minister has spoken to his counterparts about our desire to move this towards conclusion as quickly as possible and that is something our officials Geneva are supporting through practical discussions, which are ongoing in informal formats on a daily basis.

Senator Payne: I do think the G7 meeting with the G7-plus will be important on this.

Senator WONG: I was proposing to go to this tomorrow, obviously in the trade area. When you have a clear statement of policy from our principal strategic ally which is not backed by Australia, I think we could show more leadership on this. We have not taken the same position as the USTR has done publicly; that is quite clear. There is an imperative to this.

CHAIR: Is this a statement or a question? We are in Senator Faruqi's time.

Senator WONG: I am asking why are we so passive?

Senator Payne: I disagree with you.

Senator WONG: Everything is passive.

Senator Payne: I disagree with you.

Senator WONG: The Biden Administration has moved from a position that historically the US has consistently taken because of the humanitarian and public health imperative. We say, 'Oh, that's great.'

Senator Payne: Which we support.

Senator WONG: But we are not indicating we will do that; that's a difference.

Senator FARUQI: Minister, there's a big difference in welcoming a decision by the US and saying that that is our position or actually encouraging or lobbying other countries—sorry?

Senator Payne: I said you have got no idea how many conversations I have had here in the past about the use of the word 'welcoming'.

Senator FARUQI: What is that supposed to mean?

Senator Payne: It's a statement of fact.

Senator FARUQI: That has no relevance to what I am saying.

Senator Payne: No, that is true actually; it doesn't.

Senator FARUQI: What I am saying is there is a big difference in welcoming and making a statement that we support the waiver or lobbying countries to support the text based negotiations.

Senator Payne: To be very clear here, we have discussed this literally in Washington with counterparts in Washington. We have worked and discussed with India and South Africa who, as I understand it, as key proponents, are bringing this forward to the WTO. What we don't have at the moment, including from counterparts, is a plan to take it through the WTO. We have a statement of principle, which Australia has supported. Our mission in Geneva is having discussions every day on how to progress this.

Senator WONG: Is it the position of the government, is there a cabinet decision in principle, to support a waiver?

Senator Payne: There's not a cabinet decision that I'm aware of but it is the position of the government as enunciated by the Prime Minister to support this.

Senator WONG: To support a waiver?

Senator FARUQI: Sorry, are we lobbying the EU directly on this?

Senator Payne: As I said, our mission in Geneva is having discussions every day on how to progress this; that includes lobbying and advocacy with key partners. I don't have the lobbying spreadsheet in front of me or the advocacy spreadsheet. I will take that on notice.

Senator FARUQI: Okay, great. I'm looking at Australia's ODE allocations by country, regional and global programs. Our contributions to the global education partnership have been cut by $31 million to a tiny $3.5 million this year. How do you justify this?

Mr Hilton : Can I just confirm you are looking at the four-page budget document on the aid and the line that you have there, which says 'global partnerships for education'?

Senator FARUQI: Yes, 35 to 3.5.

Mr Hilton : I confirm that is not a cut in our spending on the Global Partnership for Education. That is reflecting our current replenishment with the Global Partnership for Education, and the 3.5 currently listed there is the remainder we have to pay for that replenishment. So it is just what is left in our current replenishment. There is no cut. There is a decision to be made about a future replenishment and that is currently under consideration.

Senator FARUQI: When will that decision be made?

Mr Hilton : There is a replenishment event due in July.

Senator FARUQI: Is that when the decision will be made?

Mr Hilton : Yes.

Senator FARUQI: You must be aware that Plan International, UNICEF and Save the Children have called for the government to commit to at least $70 million per year from 2021 to 2025 for replenishing the global partnership education program. We already are way behind what other nations like us have done, so I'm presuming you will take that into account when you make that decision.

Mr Hilton : We are aware of advocacy on the issue.

Senator Payne: I would say that one of the issues we have raised in relation to the GPE is a need for it to have a strong focus on the Indo-Pacific region, where Australia is strongly focused in our partnering and development support. The percentage of funds that the GPE expends in the Indo-Pacific, my understanding—and I stand to be corrected—is not high and that is something which we have been advocating for and is part of our consideration as well.

Senator FARUQI: Okay. On 5 May, Australia sent 1,056 ventilators, 43 oxygen concentrators and PPE to India. Is that correct?

CHAIR: That will be your last question, Senator Faruqi.

Ms Adamson : Mr Cowan can provide an answer.

Senator FARUQI: So 1,056 ventilators, 43 oxygen concentrators and PPE were sent to India, as I understand, or a decision was made. That followed the 27 April announcement that 500 ventilators were being sent to India. I just want a confirmation of whether these announcements are cumulative. What are the total numbers for this equipment that has been sent to India, and are there plans to send more?

Mr Cowan : To date, Australia has delivered over 30 tonnes of medical supplies. That amounts to 3,000 non-invasive ventilators and 250 oxygen concentrators to India, as well as the consumable materials that enable them to be used, including the adaptors. They were delivered over the course of four flights. The first flight was on 5 May. Then there were flights on 14 and 22 May and also this week, on 1 June. Ahead, we have arranged, through Defence, an RAAF flight that will carry essential supplies to India—but there are also some for Nepal and Sri Lanka, in response to a surge in COVID cases in those locations. We have also supported an Indian Air Force flight, which came to Western Australia on 5 May to pick up privately sourced oxygen tanks.

So there have already been quite a number of flights, and the commitments that the Commonwealth made have been delivered. It's possible—indeed, likely—that there may be a couple more flights, and we are working closely with state and territory governments on deployments in coming weeks.

Senator AYRES: Secretary, I'd like to ask some questions about the Prime Minister's participation in President Biden's climate summit in late April.

Senator Payne: Mr Isbister, our ambassador for the environment, is probably best placed to answer.

Senator AYRES: Thank you. The Prime Minister gave a speech via video link, I think, at that conference. Was anyone in the department present for the Prime Minister's remarks?

Mr Isbister : Yes. I participated as well.

Senator AYRES: So you were there. Were you or anyone in the department involved in drafting the Prime Minister's speech.

Mr Isbister : We saw a draft and provided input into it.

Senator AYRES: Was that at your level or the secretary's level or—

Mr Isbister : PM&C drafted the statement and shared it with me and my division, and we provided feedback and input into it.

Senator AYRES: The Prime Minister made some claims about Australia's achievements in terms of emissions reduction. Did you provide any feedback about those?

Mr Isbister : Is this is in relation to our emissions reduction since 2005?

Senator AYRES: Yes.

Mr Isbister : Yes, they were in the draft and we were aware of them.

Senator AYRES: You didn't seek to modify those claims?

Mr Isbister : No. I think they're statements of fact.

Senator AYRES: When was the invitation for the Prime Minister to speak received? Was that received by the department or the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Isbister : The Prime Minister's office received it. Let me check the exact date. I can take that on notice and get back to you on exactly when we received it and when PM&C received it.

Senator AYRES: But you were provided with a copy of the invitation?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator AYRES: Can you table a copy of the invitation?

Mr Isbister : It's probably for PM&C to table that.

Senator AYRES: I'm asking you—you have a copy—are you able to table it?

Mr Isbister : I don't have a copy with me. I'm saying we saw a copy of it. It was submitted to Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator AYRES: Yes, you've seen a copy. It wasn't shown to you and taken away. I don't think that's the way that it functions.

Senator Payne: [inaudible] when we can, if we can and when we can.

Senator AYRES: What was the department's understanding of the purpose of the summit?

Mr Isbister : As part of their announcements of policy leading into their campaign, the Biden administration said it would hold a climate summit within 100 days of his inauguration. With the US returning to the Paris Agreement, the focus was looking at how they would work with other countries to step up ambition and efforts to address the climate challenge.

Senator AYRES: Yes. The Americans used slightly stronger language than that. They said:

The Leaders Summit on Climate will underscore the urgency - and the economic benefits - of stronger climate action. It will be a key milestone on the road to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November in Glasgow.

And they said one of the key themes of the conference would be:

Galvanizing efforts by the world's major economies to reduce emissions during this critical decade to keep a limit to warming of 1.5 degree Celsius within reach.

That's right, isn't it?

Mr Isbister : Yes, that sounds right.

Senator AYRES: Is it the department's understanding that the United States wanted participating countries to provide updated emissions reduction targets, updated from their Paris commitments, during the course of the summit?

Mr Isbister : I think the US was clear that, as part of their efforts, they were keen to see all countries come to the summit with the most ambitious commitments they could. That included in terms of additional policy commitments, targets—a whole range of different elements they were keen to see countries and leaders come forth with.

Senator AYRES: They wanted a signal of intentions to make more ambitious emissions targets?

Mr Isbister : They were keen to see more ambitious targets, yes.

Senator AYRES: Did US counterparts, in the lead-up to the summit, ask Australia to consider updating its emissions reduction targets?

Mr Isbister : As part of the US outreach to all countries participating, I think they were asking them to come forward with both ambitious targets and additional commitments and policy measures that could accelerate reductions in emissions over the next decade.

Senator AYRES: So they were very clear with us about the need to lift ambition?

Mr Isbister : I think they were clear, as I said, with all countries participating. They were keen to see—

Senator AYRES: So publicly we all got to see that, but, in terms of representations made to you and other officers of the department they were clear privately as well that that was the purpose of the summit?

Mr Isbister : Yes. They were clear on the purpose of the summit. They were keen for countries to come forward with ambitious targets, policy measures and commitments to accelerate emission reductions.

Senator AYRES: Did the department provide advice to the Prime Minister on possible mechanisms for Australia to update its emissions targets?

Mr Isbister : We provided advice as part of how Australia would continue to meet its Paris target and how we can continue to demonstrate our ambition.

Senator AYRES: That's quite different to what the United States is seeking, isn't it? They weren't asking for a better explanation; they were asking for an increase in ambition. Were options put to the Prime Minister about how an increase in ambition might be framed in the lead-up to the summit?

Mr Isbister : I would say the Prime Minister announced a number of additional commitments, as you've seen in a statement, around committing an additional billion dollars which included international—

Senator AYRES: I'm talking about in the lead-up to the summit. What advice did the department provide?

Mr Isbister : We were part of discussions with Prime Minister and Cabinet and with industry and others about options for Australia to demonstrate its contributions to the Biden summit.

Senator AYRES: Including lifting emissions targets.

Mr Isbister : I'm not going into the advice the department has given.

Senator AYRES: It's hard to imagine that discussion could occur without canvassing the nature of—

CHAIR: You can imagine, but the officer has responded.

Senator AYRES: I don't need an editorial from the chair, although it's always entertaining.

CHAIR: Excuse me, Senator Ayres, you will treat the chair with greater respect. These officers—

Senator AYRES: Yes, and what I'd like them to do—

CHAIR: You will remain silent while I am speaking; otherwise, I'll take the call off you. I am seeking to protect the witness. If you don't understand that, and seek to make comments to reflect on the chair, you can absent yourself from the committee for a short while. Ask a question of the officer.

Senator AYRES: I'm seeking to explore the position that Mr Isbister put to me, and I'm doing it with great respect to the officer, and I think the officer should respond.

CHAIR: Asking the officer about imaginations are not necessarily within the appropriate province for this officer to answer at this forum.

Senator AYRES: It is impossible to conceive, following representations being made to Australia about lifting its emissions targets, if advice was being provided by the department to the Prime Minister and his office, that options weren't put that involved lifting emissions targets. That's what I'm putting to you.

CHAIR: But the officer has already indicated that he cannot indicate what may or may not have been proffered.

Senator AYRES: Yes, I heard him very clearly. I'm asking him to respond to that point—five minutes ago.

CHAIR: But he can't.

Mr Isbister : What I'd come back with is, as part of the preparations for it Prime Minister and Cabinet held a range of consultations with departments, around how Australia would demonstrate and bring forward additional commitments and measures around that, and we contributed to that. The Prime Minister announced a range of significant commitments at the summit.

Senator AYRES: You won't tell me what they were, but there were a range of options put to the Prime Minister.

Mr Isbister : Any sorts of preparations for a summit are discussions across government around different approaches and options that can be taken forward.

Senator AYRES: As I think you were starting to say, Mr Isbister, the Prime Minister didn't announce any update of the emissions targets at the summit, did he?

Mr Isbister : The Prime Minister reinforced at the summit that we expect to be able to exceed our current Paris target of 26 or 28 per cent. He announced additional commitments that would get made to further accelerate that.

Senator AYRES: I watched the speech. I read that. I understand that's the case. But he didn't announce any updated target. There was no increase in Australia's ambition.

Mr Isbister : There was no increase in the target, yes.

Senator AYRES: Our counter commitment is to a reduction of between 26 and 28 per cent on 2005 levels of greenhouse gas emissions as agreed in Paris.

Mr Isbister : That's right, yes.

Senator AYRES: So in six years—I think that's right, isn't it?—the federal government's maintained the same level of commitment: no movement.

Mr Isbister : It made a commitment with the Paris Agreement for a 2030 target, as many other countries did, and it has been clear that its focus is on ensuring that it can meet that commitment and exceed it.

Senator AYRES: We're at 26 to 28. At the summit President Biden announced that the United States would increase its Paris target to a reduction in emissions of between 50 to 42 per cent. That's right, isn't it?

Mr Isbister : That's correct.

Senator AYRES: That's double Australia's existing commitment.

Mr Isbister : In terms of overall emissions reductions, double, yes. Per capita, it would be different.

Senator AYRES: During the summit Japan announced that it aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 46 per cent by 2030, up from 26 per cent. That's right, isn't it?

Mr Isbister : That's right. If it was on 2005 levels it would be about 42 per cent.

Senator AYRES: Canada: of 40 to 45 per cent by 2030 on their 2005 levels, up from 30 per cent.

Mr Isbister : That's correct.

Senator AYRES: The European Union committed to a cut of 55 per cent by 2030 from 1990 levels.

Mr Isbister : That's right. They'd already made that announcement before the Biden summit, but they confirmed that at the Biden summit.

Senator AYRES: I think there's been a follow-up today from the High Commissioner on Britain's expectations of what its partners are going to do. Prime Minister Johnson at the summit announced that the United Kingdom would aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 78 per cent on 1990 levels by 2035. That's right, isn't it?

Mr Isbister : That's correct.

Senator AYRES: That's quite a bit more ambition from those countries than Mr Morrison displayed, isn't it?

Mr Isbister : I think, in terms of targets, they're certainly higher than what Australia's current overall emissions reduction targets are and our current track record.

Senator AYRES: So it's fair to say that there's a lot more ambition from our principal trading partners.

Mr Isbister : I would say there are targets that are higher than Australia's, but in terms of emissions reductions actually occurring by country, I would say that Australia is doing well.

Senator AYRES: We will come to that performance in a moment. In terms of targets, which is what President Biden said the summit's purpose was—

Mr Isbister : One of the purposes, yes.

Senator AYRES: It was the principal theme of the summit, wasn't it?

Mr Isbister : It was to increase ambition, including targets.

Senator AYRES: What was the speaking order of participating leaders at the summit?

Mr Isbister : As in?

Senator AYRES: What was the order that leaders spoke in?

Mr Isbister : I haven't got the order in front of me.

Senator AYRES: Are you able to provide it? I'm sure it can be done.

Senator Payne: We will take that on notice. I'm sure that, knowing your interest in it, you know the speaking order, but we'll provide it on notice.

Senator AYRES: Well, Mr Morrison spoke 21st out of 27 speakers, didn't he?

Senator Payne: There you are; you do know.

Mr Isbister : I think there were 41 speakers, Senator.

Senator AYRES: He spoke 21st?

Senator Payne: We said we would take it on notice, Senator.

Senator AYRES: Did he speak after China?

Mr Isbister : I recall him speaking after China, yes.

Senator Payne: We will take it on notice, Senator.

Senator AYRES: Russia?

Senator Payne: I said we would take the speaking list on notice, Senator.

Senator AYRES: I am asking him some questions about his recollection of the summit. We will see the speaking list when you provide it to us. I haven't seen the speaking list, but I just want to know—

Senator Payne: That was not clear from your question.

Senator AYRES: Did he speak before or after the Russians?

Mr Isbister : I honestly don't recall.

Senator AYRES: Japan? The United Kingdom? South Korea? Canada? Can you confirm that President Biden had already excused himself from the meeting by the time it got around to Mr Morrison's turn to speak?

Mr Isbister : I wouldn't say he excused himself from the meeting.

Senator WONG: He'd left.

Mr Isbister : He was in and out at different parts of the meeting. As the President—I guess the summit went over a number of hours.

Senator AYRES: An ABC article quoted one of the American officials, who said:

It's insufficient to follow the existing trajectory and hope that they—

And he meant Australia—

will be on a course to deep decarbonisation and getting to net-zero emissions by mid-century.

And that Australia now recognises that there's going to have to be a shift. Did the Prime Minister signal a shift at the summit?

Senator Payne: I could read you the Prime Minister's statement, Senator. I have got it right here.

Senator AYRES: I am not asking for it to be read. I think that would take a lot of time, and we're already a little bit after 5 pm.

Senator Payne: It won't take long, Senator.

Senator AYRES: I want to know whether there was a shift being signalled by the Prime Minister.

Senator Payne: The Prime Minister was very clear that we have a strong track record of setting, achieving and exceeding our commitments to responsibly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to play our part in keeping 1½ degrees within reach. He also indicated that we have met and exceeded our 2020 Kyoto commitments and that we are transparent about our progress through annual projection updates and through quarterly carbon reporting. He indicated we're well on the way to meet and beat our Paris commitments and that we will update our long-term emissions reduction strategy for Glasgow, which he, I and Minister Taylor have said on multiple occasions. He indicated that achieving our 2030 target—I note that the government has a 2030 target, which I'm not sure that you do—would see emissions per capita fall by almost half of our emissions per unit of GDP by 70 per cent. He noted that we have reduced our emissions by 19 per cent on 2005 levels, more than most other similar economies, and 36 per cent when you exclude exports.

Senator AYRES: Thanks, Minister. The Prime Minister didn't commit Australia to net zero by 2050, did he?

Senator Payne: He indicated that our goal is to get there as soon as we possibly can, through technology that enables and transforms our industries, but that we will not use taxes that eliminate them and the jobs and livelihoods that they support and create, particularly in the regions.

Senator AYRES: That's a no?

Senator Payne: I've just told you what the Prime Minister said.

Senator AYRES: Did he commit Australia to net zero by 2050?

Senator Payne: He said:

For Australia, it is not a question of if or even by when for net zero, but importantly how.

Senator AYRES: Can the department confirm that over 100 countries have now committed to net zero by 2050.

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator AYRES: You can provide us with a list on notice?

Mr Isbister : We could provide a list on notice. Not all of those have been reflected and updated in their NDCs. I think there are 47 countries that have included a net zero commitment in their NDCs, but over 100 have indicated an intention.

Senator AYRES: I assume that has been communicated in your briefings to the minister and to the Prime Minister's office?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator AYRES: Does the department assess that the Prime Minister's lack of new commitments contributed to the fact that he was the 21st speaker at the summit, hosted by our closest ally? It wasn't alphabetical, was it?

Mr Isbister : It wasn't alphabetical, no.

Senator AYRES: What do you think it says that the President of the United States wasn't even around to listen because Mr Morrison wasn't there to announce any increase in ambition?

Senator Payne: That's your observation. I've participated in countless of these meetings, both in person and virtual. The hosts, leaders, ministers and senior officials come and go from meetings, subject to their own requirements. I'm not quite sure that I follow your line of questioning there.

Senator AYRES: I'd like to turn to the upcoming G7 summit. I understand that Mr Morrison had a telephone call with Mr Johnson on 14 May.

Mr Isbister : I think that's right.

Senator AYRES: Was anyone from the department taking notes during that call?

Mr Isbister : No. I'm sure someone from PM&C was.

Senator Payne: It would have been from PM&C.

Senator AYRES: Have you been provided with a readout from the call?

Mr Isbister : I haven't, no.

Senator AYRES: Can you tell me whether climate change was discussed? I understand it was, and I think the high commission has been out today reinforcing the message publicly. Did the Prime Minister raise any concerns or queries about Australia's lack of ambition at the summit last month?

Mr Isbister : Not that I'm aware of. As I said, I haven't seen a readout of the call.

Senator AYRES: Has Prime Minister Johnson been encouraging Prime Minister Morrison to commit to net zero by 2050?

Mr Isbister : Prime Minister Johnson, as the incoming COP president, is encouraging all countries to come to Glasgow with more ambitious commitments.

Senator AYRES: I think the readout provided by the Prime Minister's office said they discussed efforts to address climate change and pathways towards net zero, including reducing emissions through technology. The readout from Mr Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, said:

The Prime Minister emphasised the importance of all countries setting ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions, and encouraged Australia to commit to reaching net zero by 2050, which will deliver clean jobs and economic growth.

Can you explain the discrepancy in the two readouts? It's normal for the readouts to try to be close to each other, isn't it?

Ms Adamson : It's normal for the readout to reflect the interests of each side and the way they engage during the call. This is a remarkably similar conversation, as I recall, to the one we had at the last estimates.

Senator AYRES: I think that's right, yes. What's Mr Morrison's response been to the request from the United Kingdom?

Mr Isbister : Which request?

Senator AYRES: The request for Australia to commit to net zero by 2050.

Mr Isbister : I think the response has been that Australia is demonstrating through its practical actions and commitments how we're reducing emissions, how we are focused on getting to net zero as soon as possible. The announcement at the Biden summit included over half a billion dollars of funding for new international partnerships, including with countries like the UK, Japan, Korea and others, in how we can work with them to invest in the research and those technologies to reduce the costs and accelerate the uptake.

Senator AYRES: It's not the first time that we've seen conflicting readouts from those conversations. I think the UK readout of a discussion in October last year said the Prime Minister also—

stressed that we need bold action to address climate change, noting that the UK's experience demonstrates that driving economic growth and reducing emissions can go hand in hand. Looking ahead to the Climate Ambition Summit on 12 December and COP26 in Glasgow next year, [Johnson] emphasised the importance of setting ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach net zero.

But Mr Morrison's readout didn't mention net zero at all. It could have been an entirely different conversation. He said that the UK PM had—

welcomed our significant increase in emissions reduction programs announced through the budget, and strongly endorsed our focus on unlocking practical pathways to reducing emissions. Both countries agreed to work closely together to accelerate research and deployment of low-emission technologies—

Why isn't the Prime Minister being straight about what the British Prime Minister has said to him? There is a difference, isn't there, between the two propositions? Why can't he just be straight about the difference?

Mr Isbister : I would say that the Prime Minister's been clear that Australia's focused on getting to net zero as soon as possible and preferably by 2050 and that we're going to do it through technology. And the discussion around how we work together, not just bilaterally but with other countries, to accelerate that is something that they're both very clear and in agreement on.

Senator AYRES: So the Prime Mi