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

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade


CHAIR: I 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. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Payne: I'll just make a few observations and then ask the secretary if she would wish to do so. To go to the effort of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in any estimates context always, by definition, encompasses a broad range of activity of the organisation in supporting government and in advancing Australia's national interests. But I did want to place on the record my acknowledgement of a significant cohort of the staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who in recent months have really gone above and beyond, on any assessment, in terms of their effort to support Australians and to advance our national interests.

The consular effort that has been required of my department and associated agencies—in particular, if I may say, since late last year with the tragic events on White Island in New Zealand—has been nothing short of remarkable. At every step the officials of the department have walked up to the line and done everything that has been asked of them and more. We have been running 24-hour consular support across a range of issues, not the least of which are, in the most recent month or so, coronavirus issues: two assisted departures from mainland China, a very significant removal from Japan and also ongoing support to countless Australians, frankly, who are placed internationally but find themselves affected by the impact of coronavirus.

In between those two events there has been, of course, a significant impact on our own Australian outlook related to bushfires. The international support that Australia was offered by so many countries, individuals and organisations around the world is an enormous credit to our country but also an enormous credit to the work that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did in acknowledging and working with those offers to provide assistance to Australians. It has been considerable and I'm sure that some of that was canvassed in Defence estimates yesterday. In terms of the level of international support and the outpouring of international support for Australia, we are very grateful.

One of the things that we are focused on, in the context of the impact of the bushfires on Australia, is of course being very, very clear that Australia is open for business, that is, from Kangaroo Island in South Australia, to my own state of New South Wales—the South Coast, the Hawkesbury area, the Mid North Coast, the North Coast, the Blue Mountains—parts of Queensland and, of course, in the constituency of Senator Van and in the constituency of Senator Kitching, in Victoria and East Gippsland. The impact is well known. Part of our job is making sure that we are putting that positive international face out there, and we are doing that in every post around the world and taking every opportunity to assure the world that Australia is open for business and to encourage the enjoyment of what we have to offer here.

In closing, again, I thank and acknowledge those consular staff—led by Andrew Todd and his team; the secretary, Frances Adamson; and our senior executives—who have done an exceptional job in recent months to assist Australians in some of the most difficult circumstances. It's what we ask them to do. But I know they do more than the basic—they do much more than that—and I am very grateful.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Minister, and well said. Can I just indicate for those who may be interested that I intend to kick off with the Australian Labor Party asking questions. After the morning tea break, half an hour will be allocated to the Greens, followed by 15 minutes to Pauline Hanson and One Nation, and then the Greens will have another block of 30 minutes at 3 pm. Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Secretary, can I also, through you, thank the many DFAT officers, both here and at posts, for the outstanding work they have undertaken. I know that particularly the coronavirus has put a lot of pressure on the department. So thank you. Could I start by saying I'm not going to ask any questions now, but could we have the aid tables tabled? That will allow us to have a look at them so that, when we get to that part of the program, we can interrogate them a little better. I hope the font is better on yours than on the ones I've been given, because I can't read them.

Senator Payne: I think it's the same as ours, unfortunately.

Senator WONG: Anyway, if they could just be tabled, I'd appreciate that. Are the officers coming to the table?

Senator Payne: I believe so, yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I'll have a look at those in the break. I want to go first to the coronavirus response. It might be best, Secretary, if we could just start with an overview of DFAT's consular response to the COVID-19 outbreak. What assistance has been provided both to Australian citizens and Australian permanent residents in China?

Ms Adamson : As my colleagues join me at the table could I, on behalf of the department, acknowledge the thanks that you've conveyed—and, obviously, the minister as well—to all our colleagues overseas and the many hundreds in Canberra who have been part of our crisis response effort. It really does mean a lot to have their work acknowledged in this way. So I want to thank you for that.

While Mr Todd, as head of the Consular and Crisis Management Division, will be able to deal directly with the issues that you raise in relation to our consular response, as the minister has indicated there's very little of the department's work that hasn't somehow been influenced by COVID-19 and the need to respond. I simply want to flag—and it's one of the reasons I've asked Simon Newnham to join us at the table; he's coordinating at the band 2 level—that the totality of our response will be at the geographical divisions. Our humanitarian colleagues, our economic colleagues and of course consular colleagues are right at the very centre of it. I certainly want to indicate to you and other members of the committee that we are, I think, well prepared to answer a range of questions and to give you a sense of the totality of our response, which is very much part of a whole-of-government response led in many respects, of course, by the Department of Health.

Mr Todd : Just in terms of some of the headlines, we assisted 546 people to leave Wuhan and 170 people to depart Yokohama following the docking of the ship there. We have continued to provide ongoing consular support to a number of passengers from the Diamond Princess who were placed in hospital or in quarantine in Japan. We have undertaken a significant number of regular updates to the department's Smartraveller website and travel advice. In total, some 73 destinations have had their travel advice updated on many occasions. That's multiple countries on the same day.

We've sent out over two million emails to subscribers to the Smartraveller website; the Smartraveller website has been viewed eight million times by some 2.13 million people; and since 1 January the daily visits to our website have surged from 20,000 to an average of 110,000, and people subscribing to updates for travel advice has increased by 70 per cent. So, across the consular domain, a significant amount of work has been undertaken and continues to be undertaken, and a lot of that work is undertaken 24 hours a day. A significant number of DFAT colleagues in Canberra and at our posts overseas have been engaged in one way or another in the government's response to COVID-19.

Senator WONG: Can you just remind us of the current state of the lockdown in Hubei province?

Mr Todd : The lockdown continues in its agreed status, such that people are not allowed to leave Wuhan. There are issues with intracity travel in Wuhan, and departing Hubei province remains restricted as well.

Senator WONG: How many Australian citizens remain in Hubei province and have requested consular assistance?

Senator Payne: Obviously we can only respond in relation to those who've made contact.

Senator WONG: I've just asked that question.

Mr Todd : We are aware of at least 355 individuals, Australian citizens and permanent residents, who remain in Hubei province.

Senator WONG: Sorry, 355 in Hubei?

Mr Todd : There are 355 individuals, permanent residents and Australian citizens, who have indicated an interest in further information about additional assistance from the Australian government, including the possibility of an assisted departure.

Senator WONG: Can you give a breakdown of that figure as between permanent residents and citizens?

Mr Todd : We have 236 permanent residents and 119 Australian citizens.

CHAIR: As I understand it, as I am speaking a document is being handed out and we will officially table it. It is titled 'Senate Estimates Reporting', 28 February 2020, and I think that is our foreign aid.

Senator Payne: That's the table Senator Wong requested.

CHAIR: Yes. For the record, it's colour-coded as well. Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: Of the 355, are you able to tell me how many are in Wuhan?

Mr Todd : The figures I have are for Hubei province. I don't have a specific breakdown, because the numbers do vary, depending on when we're talking to a person. It is interesting to note that, since we started to open our phone lines and record people's interests, we have identified, through the cooperation of the Australian Border Force, the fact that 369 of those people who originally indicated an interest in further advice from us have actually returned to Australia. We are not quite sure how they've done that and we're not quite sure—

Senator WONG: I'm sorry, 300-and?

Mr Todd : 369.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry? I don't understand these figures.

Mr Todd : They're people from all over China as well.

Senator WONG: That's an extraneous figure, isn't it? At this stage the figure we're interested in—

Mr Todd : 355.

Senator WONG: 355?

Mr Todd : Yes.

Senator WONG: How many of those are unaccompanied minors?

Mr Todd : We believe in the order of 22 do not have their immediate parents; so I think that's unaccompanied minors. We need to qualify that. They're not unaccompanied in the sense that they're on their own; they are with grandparents or extended family.

Senator WONG: Are these all Australian citizens, the 22?

Mr Todd : Not all of them are Australian citizens.

Senator WONG: How many of the 22 are Australian citizens?

Mr Todd : I'll have to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: The ages range from—

Mr Todd : I can give you an age breakdown of the 355.

Senator WONG: No, I'm talking about unaccompanied minors. I just want to know how many small kids are there.

Mr Todd : Between the ages of zero and two years of age, 27.

Senator WONG: You just gave me a figure that there were 22 unaccompanied minors.

Mr Todd : Yes.

Senator WONG: You now tell me that, between zero and two, there were 27?

Mr Todd : Yes. Some of those—five—would not be unaccompanied minors.

Senator WONG: From zero to two, there are 27 out of the 369. I was actually asking 'of the unaccompanied'?

Mr Todd : Yes.

Senator WONG: You don't know? Of the 22 Australian children who currently are unable to leave, I want to know, broadly, how many young children there are.

Mr Todd : Twenty-two of them are between zero and two years of age.

Senator WONG: These figures don't correlate.

Mr Todd : Let me explain. There is a total of 27 children aged between zero and two; 22 of those are not accompanied by immediate parents.

Senator WONG: But there must be children between two and 18?

Mr Todd : Yes.

Senator WONG: You gave me a figure of unaccompanied—

Mr Todd : There are 60 children between two and 16.

Senator WONG: So there are 60 children between two and 16?

Mr Todd : Yes.

Senator WONG: There are 22 Australian children between zero and two?

Mr Todd : Correct.

Senator WONG: What was the 27 figure?

Mr Todd : The 27 figure is the total number of children that we're aware of that are aged between zero and two years of age.

Senator WONG: Of whom 22 are not accompanied by parents?

Mr Todd : That do not have their immediate parents with them.

Senator WONG: I have written to the minister and she has responded, but I do want to ask: do we have any plans to assist the departure of the 22 children under two who are currently in Hubei province and are unable to leave because they are not accompanied by an Australian parent?

Mr Todd : Further assisted departure flights remain a decision for the government.

Senator WONG: Obviously there have been a few cases of Australians in the media, but a circumstance that we're talking about—and tell me if this is not the typical circumstance—is where we have Australian-citizen parents or parent, an Australian-citizen child, grandparents who are not Australian citizens and, therefore, are affected by our travel ban and, therefore, the child is unable to leave because DFAT, the government, doesn't permit children of that age to be unaccompanied on assisted departures, correct?

Mr Todd : That's our policy at the moment.

Ms Adamson : Although even if the Australian government did not have that ban in place, our experience during the assisted departures is that the Chinese will not let non-citizens or PRs depart—

Senator WONG: I understand that. But for compassionate reasons, if you have children who are away from their parents who are our citizens, surely we could make it a priority, in terms of the bilateral engagement, to try and assist these children leaving? Minister, I'd ask you—and I do appreciate your having responded to me—from where I think many Australians sit, we've got Australian kids who can't get out and so: are we making it a priority to engage with the Chinese authorities to see whether we can assist these children to leave?

Senator Payne: We are in regular and constant contact with the Chinese authorities, both here in Canberra and in Beijing. Of course, we have no consular or other staff on the ground in Hubei province, and those staff who were able to assist in our process of arranging the departures have themselves been subject to the quarantine period and so on on their finalisation of that task. There is no question that—and we understand that it is very difficult for families—at the same time our absolute priority is on supporting those Australians in place where they are as best we can in the face of what is a very difficult process. There are very few flights being organised any further—very few indeed, is my understanding, but I stand to be corrected by officials. In fact, I think we're down to single digits in the last couple of weeks.

It is also difficult in terms of carriers. As you know, the transport in and out of that part of China is severely restricted as well, including Qantas having ceased its own flights. It's not something which we are ignoring, not at all, but it is not in the immediate prospect that there will be a further flight.

Senator WONG: I just asked if it was a priority of the government to try and get these children out.

Senator Payne: And I've responded.

Senator WONG: So it's not a priority?

Senator Payne: Absolutely we are focused on their welfare and we are focused on the situation there, but we have to work within the circumstances that obtain in China.

Senator WONG: Have we asked the Chinese authorities if a further departure could be arranged for unaccompanied children?

Senator Payne: We are regularly in contact with the Chinese authorities about a range of issues and that includes the status of Australians in China. That is part of our conversation. I'm not sure when most recently we asked that question, but that has been part of our conversations.

Senator WONG: I'm genuinely asking these questions. Do I understand that answer to mean that we have made a request of the Chinese authorities for arrangements to be made for the unaccompanied children—

Senator Payne: No, that is not what I said. I said we are in discussions with the Chinese authorities about support of Australian citizens, including those children in Wuhan and Hubei province, and they are not all, as I understand it—but again, I will be corrected by officials, if I'm incorrect—in the city of Wuhan. Some are. Some are an extended distance from the city of Wuhan in a very large province, which is Hubei province. We are focused on their welfare and assuring ourselves that they are comfortable to the best level possible in the circumstances, but we have not requested a further flight at this stage.

Senator WONG: So we have not requested a further flight at all? I just want to be very clear.

Senator Payne: We have been very clear about that.

Senator WONG: And I want to be clear about this question: the government has not requested approval from the Chinese authorities to allow non-Australian citizens to travel to enable Australian unaccompanied minors to come back to Australia?

Senator Payne: We have not requested that further flight at this stage in the circumstances that exist in Hubei province, as Mr Todd has explained, including a transport movement lockdown, including carriers no longer transiting through or using China and a number of other factors which are very constraining on our ability to do this.

Senator WONG: That is an answer as to why it hasn't happened. It's not an answer as to why we haven't sought approval.

Senator Payne: No. Obviously we can get the secretary to contribute. I do think that these are actually all interlinked; they are not separate. We have to know that we have the capacity to achieve an outcome before we ask the question and, at this point in time, that is not clear.

Ms Adamson : Can I also just—

Senator WONG: So we've—

Senator Payne: Could we let the secretary respond, please?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Ms Adamson : Simply because I think this goes to the nub of your question. We have tried. Along the way, we have engaged the Chinese and requested that we be able to assist with the departure of the children to whom you are referring, in the company of grandparents or whoever it may be—Chinese citizens but not Australians—and the answer to that question consistently has been no. So, the government's focus on the first two flights and with New Zealand was—

Senator WONG: That was the first two flights. We now have a situation where we have 22 kids under the age of two. What I've been told—and I hear the minister's response—is that we have not sought approval for them to be allowed to depart and we are not making arrangements to enable them to depart.

Ms Adamson : We have discussed that issue at every turn with the Chinese from the beginnings of our planning around these assisted departures and the answer has been no.

Senator WONG: I don't understand your answer compared with the minister's earlier answer. I thought I said, 'Have we requested approval?' and the answer was, no, that we hadn't?

Ms Adamson : You asked whether we had expressed approval, I think, for another flight focusing on these.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Ms Adamson : What I'm saying is that from the outset of our engagement, recognising pretty early on actually that some of these minors were part of our cohort, we've sought to engage the Chinese authorities to test their willingness—to request them, for example, to enable those groups to leave. Very early on it was apparent—and it's been the experience of other countries also—that that would not be permitted. So, we've sought to test the system from the beginning. We've been very focused on this group. The Prime Minister's instructions to the department early on were to focus on the vulnerable and the isolated. And that's why the overall cohorts, particularly the first flight, were very much skewed to younger people. They have unfortunately, though, not—and this is a cause of some concern obviously to my consular colleagues who specialise in this kind of work—been able to assist the particular subset of that cohort to which you refer.

Senator WONG: So what is the plan? Do we just wait?

Ms Adamson : As Mr Todd has said, we are keeping in touch with Australians as best we can and, obviously, there are concerned parents here in Australia. You, yourself, may have registered the fact that there was briefly media reporting in China to the effect that some of the lockdown arrangements in Wuhan and Hubei were being eased. We continue, through our consulate-general in Shanghai, which has consular responsibility for Hubei province and obviously for Wuhan, to test when that may happen. Early on, there was quite a bit of detail associated with an announcement. That was then retracted. At some point, given the Chinese efforts to contain the virus, there will be a loosening of those restrictions. But we are not yet there for Hubei, although clearly that's starting to happen in other parts of China.

Senator WONG: Are we prepping contingencies for circumstances where the travel restrictions are relaxed sufficiently to enable the children, in particular, and other Australians to leave?

Mr Todd : Yes. We are always scoping and planning for when unexpected circumstances arise, and colleagues in my division have already started to look at what possible scenarios might be ahead of us and to ensure that we are best placed to provide advice to government on what those options could be. Our posts in China—in particular, our post in Shanghai, which has consular responsibility—are very focused on this and are working with colleagues to ensure that that happens. I would like to add that, from a consular perspective, these children are not left behind; they are accommodated with their grandparents or extended family and we are in touch with them.

Senator WONG: Come on! Mr Todd, please. I think we all know how we'd feel if we were in Australia and our child was in China and we couldn't get to them. I understand that they're not by themselves; I understand that they're with their grandparents. I led the questioning with that.

Mr Todd : Yes. We continue to remain in direct contact by phone and email with—

Senator WONG: At what level have requests been made for the Chinese authorities to relax the restrictions on non-citizens travelling? I appreciate that there are other logistical issues, but it is a sort of a priori problem, isn't it? Unless we resolve that, there's no point in doing any other logistics. Minister, has that been raised with your counterpart?

Senator Payne: I've spoken with State Councillor Wang Yi on a number of issues. I don't recall if that was specifically in that conversation, but we have canvassed some of the challenges of course.

Ms Adamson : It's been raised by our ambassador in Beijing. He's been engaged at every step of this process.

Senator WONG: I have no doubt. I'm just trying to work out how elevated it's been at a political level. Minister, perhaps on notice you can advise us—

Senator Payne: Certainly. But, as the secretary says, the ambassador has been part of this.

Senator WONG: Yes, I understand. There was a report in the Sydney Morning Herald that there had been offers made privately by Australians in Hubei to take children with them prior to one of the evacuations. Do you have any knowledge of that?

Senator Payne: Do you mean children who were not their family members?

Senator WONG: Yes. I understood it to mean that some friends of family or other adults offered to take young children with them, and that was rejected. Does anyone have any information on that?

Mr Todd : There were several variables at play. One was: who would the Chinese government allow to leave? And they were very rigorous in Chinese citizens not being able to leave. There were also a range of quite genuine legal issues in terms of guardianship and responsibility—

Senator WONG: You're telling me all the reasons why it couldn't happen. I want to know whether offers were made and whether we said no, for some of the reasons you're putting.

Mr Todd : I'm aware of at least one approach that was made which was rejected.

Senator WONG: By?

Mr Todd : By the department, in consultation with our legal area. The proposal was that the parents would write a note saying, 'I, the parent of', 'hereby give you'—the other person—'guardianship of my child for the purposes of a flight back to Australia.' That simply could not be accepted by us or the airlines. It's a fact that supervising a young child on a long flight and then into quarantine is a very, very complex thing. The risks for that individual child, the risks to officials travelling and the risks to staff working on an airline were considered—

Senator WONG: Do you mean legal risks? A child or two can be difficult at times but—

Mr Todd : Legal and supervisory. The flights were not normal flights.

Senator WONG: Nothing about this is normal.

Mr Todd : Correct. But on the flights there was not normal inflight service because of the quarantine requirements for all staff and people on board the flight. So it was not like your normal Qantas flight. They do not allow children under two to fly unaccompanied on Qantas. This flight was different as well in that there wasn't as much contact with passengers on board as would happen on a normal flight. None of our staff who were on the crisis response team had a 'working with minors' legal certificate. There were a lot of issues that had to be considered and decisions taken. It was a decision that did not go through lightly but was very carefully considered.

There was also a risk that played very heavily on the minds of those who were planning and executing all of these things, and that was that, if something untoward happened, as a two-year-old child was travelling from several miles or several hundred kilometres outside Wuhan to the airport—transport issues were very, very difficult—and they were intercepted along the way and failed a medical test, a temperature test, what would happen to them? None of those decisions was taken lightly, I can assure you.

Senator WONG: The plan is to wait for the travel restrictions to be relaxed—correct?

Mr Todd : Correct.

Senator WONG: And the plan would still be to wait for a commercial carrier to be willing to provide a service? Is that even if it were under—

Mr Todd : It would depend on what the nature of the travel restrictions that were lifted were and what new restrictions, if any, were put in place—whether road transport was an option to another city where the airport was reopened to commercial flights, whether other provinces would accept people leaving.

Senator WONG: What have you advised the families, particularly of the children? Have you given them any advice as to likely timeframes that they should steel themselves for?

Mr Todd : We have not given a time frame, because it is beyond our control.

Senator WONG: I just wondered.

Mr Todd : We have ascertained that the children continue to be accommodated with their grandparents or extended family and how they're being accommodated.

Senator WONG: How often are we in contact with the Australians who remain in Wuhan?

Mr Todd : It would vary depending on individual cases, but there has been telephone or email contact with a significant number of those people in the last 10 days.

Senator WONG: Do we have particular contact arrangements in relation to the children?

Mr Todd : Yes, we do.

Senator WONG: What are they?

Mr Todd : They're either through our post in Shanghai or directly from one of our operation centres here in Canberra to talk to the parents and the grandparents or the carers. In particular, we make extensive use of our posts in China to ensure that that communication is conducted in Chinese.

Senator WONG: How are the children and how are the families?

Mr Todd : The latest report that we've had, which was earlier this week, was that people are coping. They are very frustrated with the conditions that apply. We understand that food and medicine are available, that arrangements have been set up in local complexes, compounds or subunits where food is regularly brought in—a reasonable supply of food—and that arrangements are in place for medications, if and when required.

Senator WONG: How young is the youngest child?

Mr Todd : I don't have that detail, but I could find out for you.

Senator WONG: You don't know?

Mr Todd : I simply have figures here that tell me from zero to two. I'm more than happy to find that out.

Senator WONG: Yes, please come back on that. My suggestion, which you may or may not take on board, is that this is obviously a very distressing thing for many of the families—

Mr Todd : We agree.

Senator WONG: —so it's obviously a priority, and I think it's a priority in terms of Australians understanding what's happening there. I hope you can get people out soon and reunite children with their parents.

Mr Todd : Agreed.

Senator WONG: On the cost of DFAT-assisted departures, on 2 February we had two ministers saying different things. We had Minister Dutton saying that DFAT was seeking a fee of $1,000, and Minister Frydenberg said that DFAT wouldn't charge a fee. I just want to know: when was the decision made to not charge a fee and who made the decision? When was the decision made to charge and then changed? Can someone tell me what the sequence is?

Mr Todd : The National Security Committee of cabinet met on Wednesday, 29 January, and a decision was made then.

Senator WONG: To charge a fee?

Mr Todd : To charge a fee. On Saturday, 1 February, the government revised its position.

Senator WONG: Was that an NSC decision as well?

Mr Todd : On matters of government decision-making I'd refer to the minister.

Ms Adamson : Perhaps I can—

Senator WONG: You've already told me that NSC made a decision on one day; you can't then refuse to tell me—

Mr Todd : I didn't refuse; I referred.

Senator WONG: You referred!

Ms Adamson : Let me be right up-front about some—

Senator WONG: I understand that there was a mistake in the advice given.

Ms Adamson : There was.

Senator WONG: I'm not pressing that. I get that; that's happened. I am interested to understand why you were asked to make that fact public.

Ms Adamson : I have never had a problem in saying—

Senator WONG: But were you asked to?

Ms Adamson : I made the decision myself. I was quite open with the minister—indeed, the Prime Minister—that DFAT had given incorrect advice.

Senator WONG: I'm not pressing that; I actually just want to understand the sequence. With regard to the reversal of position for the subsequent Saturday, can someone just tell me whether that was an NSC or prime ministerial decision?

Senator Payne: The Prime Minister and I made that decision.

Senator WONG: And that was after you'd received advice about precedent?

Senator Payne: Yes, that updated information.

Senator WONG: I understand. How did you become aware of the decision to change the position, Secretary or Mr Todd?

Ms Adamson : You'll appreciate that, despite regular meetings of high-level committees and a great deal of work through interdepartmental committees, much of this work has taken place on weekends. We became aware, I think, in the course of Saturday that there had been a change.

Senator WONG: Was that advice from the minister's office or through public—

Ms Adamson : One of the ways we've effectively communicated with each other is through the sort of updating of messaging and talking points; so it was through that process. We were well aware, as a department, that the government was needing to look afresh at this and we had advised them that the Americans and others were charging. We'd also advised them—you've said that you won't go to it but I'm happy to talk about it, should anyone wish to—that that had been the basis for a decision. When that basis, if you like, fell away, it was our expectation that the government would change its mind and, in fact, it did. I think it was in the course of the Saturday-Sunday that we were made aware of that.

Senator WONG: Were you aware that the fact that DFAT had given incorrect advice would be made public by the government?

Ms Adamson : Was I aware? I expected it would be. Obviously—

Senator WONG: But did anyone tell you, 'Oh, by the way, we're going to mention that', as part of the justification for the decision?

Senator Payne: We were clear that, having made a decision based on advice and having recorded that formally—when being told that that advice could not stand because it was not correct—we would say that we were not charging and the reason we were not charging was that we had made a decision based on incorrect advice.

Senator WONG: Did anyone do the department the courtesy of letting them know that the public were going to be told?

Senator Payne: We are speaking constantly.

Senator WONG: Did you do them the courtesy of saying, 'We're going to blame you publicly?'

Senator Payne: Yes. We're speaking constantly. It's not a question of blaming publicly. It's a question of explaining—

Senator WONG: I'm happy to get what the PM said—what you people backgrounded.

Senator Payne: It's a question of explaining how a situation arose and how it was resolved, and I think that's a sensible thing to do and a transparent thing to do.

Senator WONG: You became aware, Secretary, via talking points that the decision had changed?

Ms Adamson : There were multiple interactions with people. Again, to be clear, because I have no difficulty with this at all, we became aware in the course of the Friday afternoon that a journalist was reporting incorrectly—reporting correctly, actually—our incorrect advice. We corrected that with the journalist. We were perfectly comfortable about it being made known publicly. So, if you like, we got there first. It's just that it wasn't widely picked up. It was then mentioned in the course of the—

Senator WONG: But you became aware of the decision to alter the payment by talking points or something similar, like on your messages—

Senator Payne: Exchange of messages.

Ms Adamson : Exchange of messages, yes.

Senator WONG: Did you tell them, Minister? Did you tell the secretary that you and the Prime Minister had changed the position?

Senator Payne: Yes, we certainly did discuss—

Senator WONG: Did you tell the secretary?

Senator Payne: I can't recall whether it was me or a—

Senator WONG: Did your chief of staff tell anybody?

Senator Payne: I can't recall if it was me or a member of my staff.

Senator WONG: Hang on; that's different evidence. I just want to—

Senator Payne: No, it's not.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to be clear. I'm trying to actually understand what happened. I thought, Secretary—and I'm happy to give you the opportunity to clarify—what you were saying previously is you became aware of the change, because you have messaging arrangements where you saw documents which demonstrated, whether they were talking points or other documents, that the decision had been made. I'm asking whether anyone, either the minister or someone from her office, took the time to actually inform your secretary that the NSC decision had been changed before it became public?

Ms Adamson : As the minister said, we've been in constant contact over this. Once we, if you like, corrected our advice, it was my informed expectation, through contact with the minister's office and chief of staff, that the government would change its position. The actual point at which it became clear to me that that had been done—and it did not surprise me at all, because this is a matter of hours—was then in the points that are circulated to ensure, if you like, that we're all on the same page. There was nothing untoward about that from my point of view. It was the continuation of a conversation that we'd been having in previous days on multiple occasions.

Senator WONG: Mr Todd, are you able to come back to me on the age of the youngest child soon?

Mr Todd : Yes; I'm hoping that people are listening as well.

Senator WONG: On notice, can you provide a list of recent assisted departures or evacuations from overseas crises and advise in relation to what portion of these Australians were required to pay for the consular assistance provided? Let's not get a response that says, 'The resources required to do this are too much.' I'm just trying to get I suppose a linear sense of—

Ms Adamson : Yes, we can do that. Mr Todd will speak to it.

Senator WONG: No; I'm just asking for it on notice. I'm moving on from this. I think it is correct that those evacuated from the Diamond Princess in Japan did not pay any fee. Is that right?

Mr Todd : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Is the primary vehicle for advice to travellers, Australian travellers, on health risks overseas Smartraveller?

Mr Todd : Yes, it is.

Senator WONG: Are there any other vehicles or platforms by which we're advising Australians about travel risks? This is outbound.

Mr Todd : Smartraveller is the primary government vehicle, but it is cross-referenced to the Department of Health's coronavirus information page and hotline. They have a similar sort of cross-referral back to us to make sure that if people go into one area they do get access to that information. I have an answer to your question.

Senator WONG: Yes?

Mr Todd : The youngest unaccompanied child is eight months old.

Senator WONG: Are there any challenges with milk supply or infant formula?

Mr Todd : We don't believe there are. We regularly check. These children were in Wuhan or Hubei province.

Senator WONG: I assume from what I've seen publicly that it was not intended as a long stay for many of them?

Mr Todd : In some circumstances, in some cases, there has been expressed to us an anticipation that the stay of some of these young children was four months. When we spoke to people at the—

Senator WONG: But there are also Australian parents who are in the newspapers saying that, with their travel arrangements—and it's quite explicable over the Chinese New Year period, too—people had kids with their grandparents for a period and they were intending to return to—

Mr Todd : I don't have any further details on that specific case.

Senator WONG: You've updated travel advice. Can you tell me how the travel advice for Iran, South Korea and Japan reflects the current health warnings in relation to COVID-19?

Mr Todd : I'll start with Iran. The foreign minister agreed to raise the level of travel advice for all of Iran to 'do not travel' on 29 February, based on the risk of widespread community transmission of COVID-19 and the sharp increase in cases. This was based on advice from the Chief Medical Officer and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. We further updated the travel advice for Iran on 4 March, to advise that the foreign minister had directed the departure of dependants of Australian embassy officials due to widespread community transmission of COVID-19. That's part of our ensuring that there are no decisions that we take affecting government officials that are not reflected into the advice to the general public in Australia.

Senator Payne: In relation to your earlier question, I can advise the committee that my chief of staff advised Mr Todd at 8.58 on 1 February in relation to the government's decision not to raise a charge.

Senator WONG: I might put on notice some of the travel advice stuff, Mr Todd, because you're very thorough. And if we do that—

Ms Adamson : He needs to be.

Senator WONG: It's his job.

Senator Payne: A very complimentary process.

Senator WONG: I just want to go back to something you said earlier, which is that a number of DFAT officers were in quarantine post working on the Wuhan-assisted departures.

Ms Adamson : That was Mr Todd, but they were, yes. Mr Todd said it.

Senator WONG: I actually was just inquiring as to their welfare.

Mr Todd : Six Australian government officials moved to Wuhan to assist with the departure—three officials from Shanghai and four from Beijing.

Ms Adamson : The answer is, they're fine.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr Todd : They all had to go—five DFAT officers, one Department of Defence/ADF employee—and all went through successful quarantine in Darwin.

Senator WONG: Our thanks to them for that work.

Mr Todd : Thank you.

Senator WONG: Did we advise the government of Iran about the travel ban before its announcement?

Senator Payne: Yes, we did.

Senator WONG: And as to engagement with tourism and cruise ship operators about growing health risks? Can you do this in a summary, please?

Ms Adamson : You've asked actually one of the very complex questions in this situation.

Senator WONG: I know. I'm interested, but I have a lot to ask.

Senator Payne: There's the complexity around ports that are not taking ships.

Senator WONG: Are you engaging with industry about how to handle it?

Mr Todd : Very, very closely, and the Cruiseline International Association of Australia has been an exceedingly helpful partner. We are regularly made aware of Australian citizens on board a vast array of ships that are travelling the world. As soon as we become aware that there are any issues, whether that ship can or can't dock, the individual cruise lines provide us immediate information and also have enabled us to provide information very swiftly to all passengers on board.

Senator Payne: The cruise industry, if you like, and Australians taking cruises has for a while been a growing part of the consular caseload even in normal times. We are engaged with them anyway and we are deeply engaged with them at the moment.

Senator WONG: It's been reported that the government is considering travel restrictions in relation to travellers from Italy and South Korea.

Senator Payne: There are reports in relation to those matters. They're matters for consideration by the National Security Committee and advice will be provided appropriately to the Australian community once that has been done.

Senator WONG: Are you able to give us some sense of when that consideration is likely to occur?

Senator Payne: We are relying on our consultation with the government—and I don't mean DFAT in this context—with the AHPPC, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which is the committee chaired by the Chief Medical Officer and comprising the chief medical officers of all the states and territories. They are providing advice to government currently, and any announcements will be made in a very timely way. I don't think you will have very long to wait.

Senator WONG: In PM&C estimates I asked Senator Cormann about the initial travel ban in relation to China or travellers from China. We were discussing these issues and he said, 'We were always very focused.' I asked him about whether or not, as has happened in relation to Iran, the Chinese authorities or the Chinese government was advised prior to the Prime Minister standing up in a press conference. He said, 'We were always very focused on making appropriate private advice prior to public announcements.' I just want to go through a bit of a time line here. I think the Prime Minister himself said there was an NSC decision on the day on which he announced.

Ms Adamson : That's correct.

Senator WONG: What time was that?

Ms Adamson : It was on the Saturday afternoon and the date—

Senator WONG: On 1 February.

Ms Adamson : Yes, Saturday, 1 February. We think we broke just after 4 o'clock—about 4:10 or something like that.

Senator WONG: Broke?

Mr Adams : Finished the meeting.

Senator WONG: I thought you meant the news broke. Please don't tell me that!

Ms Adamson : No, the meeting concluded at around about 4 pm.

Senator WONG: And you're a member of—

Ms Adamson : I sit alongside the minister.

Senator WONG: I was going to ask when DFAT was advised, but you were there.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator Payne: What is, I think, important for us as an agency is that we have been in every step of this process.

Senator WONG: It would be remarkable if you weren't; so I'm glad to hear that.

Senator Payne: Indeed, but it is important to reinforce that. You and your colleagues have, I think, been very positive in your engagement on these issues and processes.

Senator WONG: The foreign affairs department and the foreign affairs minister shouldn't be happy about being involved; you should just expect to be involved in this sort of decision.

Senator Payne: No, I'm not saying that. I'm making an observation about how important it has been to have a whole-of-government approach.

Senator WONG: Okay. Agreed.

Senator Payne: I do think between Health, Home Affairs, ABF, DFAT, Agriculture—the whole-of-government approach has been important.

Senator WONG: At four o'clock the meeting breaks up. At five o'clock the Prime Minister stands up. There has been media reporting that suggests that the Chinese Embassy or the Chinese government was not happy about being blindsided about the announcement. There have been media reports that you rang but only got an answering machine. Why don't you tell me—

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: I'm putting to you what's in the public arena and I'm giving you an opportunity to explain to me what happened.

Ms Adamson : I'm very happy to do that. The meeting ended at about 10 past four. I then returned to the department and immediately set in train arrangements to personally brief the Chinese ambassador. I was doing that literally two to three minutes after five, and I began by saying that I'd tried to reach him; that he'd been a little hard to reach, and I was ringing now on behalf of the foreign minister to let him know what I expected the Prime Minister to say as he went through his media conference. Much has been made of this. To be honest with you, I find it surprising, because I advised him at the earliest opportunity.

I think the Chinese reaction has been somewhat misinterpreted. There was no difficulty at all between the ambassador and me. He was appreciative of the call. We took the trouble, obviously, as you would expect us to, to give him the detail. This was a new approach. He was satisfied with that. I think what might have been conflated in media reporting was then the Chinese response to the speed with which Australian agencies were able to give effect to the government's instruction. From my perspective, both then and subsequently, there was no issue, if you like, around my phone call. The ambassador was very appreciative, in fact.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry. I was slightly distracted for a minute there. At 10 past four the meeting finished?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: You personally tried to call the Chinese ambassador?

Ms Adamson : I walked out of the NSC. I walked around the building. I went down to the car park. I got in my car. I drove back to DFAT. I got out of my car. I walked up the stairs to the fifth floor.

Senator WONG: This is slightly odd.

CHAIR: Up the stairs. Well done.

Ms Adamson : I walked up the stairs to the fifth floor. I briefed my staff. We sought to engage the Chinese embassy. It's Saturday afternoon. I couldn't begin to contemplate what the ambassador might have been doing then or where he was. But by two minutes after five we were speaking. That is fast by any stretch of the imagination.

Senator WONG: I just asked you to—

Ms Adamson : I know you're interested in the detail. I wanted to give you my movements that afternoon.

Senator WONG: No, you're unusually defensive on this, particularly when I wasn't actually on the attack.

Ms Adamson : I'm puzzled at why it's an issue when it was handled in the way these things normally are.

Senator WONG: Was there any consideration by the government of holding the Prime Minister's press conference such as to ensure the Chinese had been informed before the Prime Minister stood up?

Ms Adamson : The minister has just reminded me that of course another part of this was to ensure that Graham Fletcher, our ambassador in Beijing, was advised and able to engage the Chinese at that end.

Senator WONG: I understood that. I assumed that the briefing of the staff would've included ensuring that the ambassador was advised.

Ms Adamson : Yes, absolutely. We had six people in the department—

Senator WONG: I inferred that from what you were saying.

Ms Adamson : Obviously the Prime Minister, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Foreign Affairs wanted to be able to inform the Australian public of the decision. It was my job to ensure that the Chinese were informed. I think the government's setting, if you like—and it was evident again with Iran—is to want that notification to be able to be given as speedily as possible, and to expect to be informed when it's underway. I was able to inform the PMO that we were very close to making contact. I had no difficulty with the media conference starting when it did, because by that stage I was confident I would be speaking to the Chinese ambassador imminently.

Senator WONG: I have a question about Smartraveller registration. Mr Todd, it was also reported in the media that Smartraveller registration on the website was cancelled prior to the outbreak. I just want to understand what actually happened.

Mr Todd : No, that's incorrect. We've briefed the committee previously about the changes and enhancements we've made to the Smartraveller website.

Senator WONG: Forgive me; I'm in a lot of committees at the moment.

Mr Todd : We have enhanced the crisis capacity of the Smartraveller website. We're now able, as I mentioned earlier, to send out direct information to people who've subscribed to travel advice updates. We now have a crisis page that is uploaded as soon as an event occurs that enables us to get information accurately.

Senator WONG: But this is a different function, isn't it? The registration function has ended, yes?

Mr Todd : The registration function—

Senator WONG: You advised the committee. Was the parliament briefed about this? Or was the opposition briefed?

Mr Todd : This was a decision made well into last year when it was decided—

Senator WONG: Sorry? This was a decision made last year—

Mr Todd : To change the way we register people in a crisis.

Senator WONG: Well, hang on.

Mr Todd : Because it wasn't working. We had a system previously where people were invited to register their travel overseas.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Todd : Very few people ever did that.

Senator WONG: So you ended that?

Mr Todd : We ended that and started a new process, which has two elements to it. Went from a 'just in case' process to a 'just in time' process.

Senator WONG: Who came up with that? Did you come up with that?

Mr Todd : No.

Ms Adamson : It's exactly what it is, and it's working fantastically well.

Senator WONG: Who made the decision to end the registration and move from 'just in case' to 'just in time'?

As I understand what you have now is people then can register if and when an event happens or a crisis occurs?

Mr Todd : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Which assumes they can actually do that, but anyway.

Mr Todd : There are various ways that people can do it, and the same thing applies in the time of a crisis if you're registered.

Senator WONG: It depends where you are, doesn't it?

Mr Todd : But if you are registered, how do we contact you?

Senator WONG: Who you are.

Mr Todd : There were a whole lot of issues with the previous system. The new system, in the most recent assisted departures that we've undertaken, enabled us to have much more accurate and much more detailed information in a much speedier way that's enabled us to not only get people out but to stay in contact.

Senator WONG: The decision was made last year by the government or by DFAT?

Mr Todd : It was part of a significant reform of the Smartraveller concept on the website and the minister agreed to the decisions that the department proposed.

Senator WONG: When? At the end of last year?

Ms Adamson : Earlier.

Mr Todd : It was earlier than that. I'll—

Senator WONG: Sorry? Who said 'earlier'?

Ms Adamson : I said 'earlier'. This has been part of a reform—these things are often not done quickly—that we've been working on deeply for 18 months or so. It had been a laborious process. Committed travellers would sit down and enter their data for half an hour, but it wasn't necessarily terribly useful or responsive.

Senator WONG: The good thing about it is that sometimes when parents are travelling you can do it for them.

Ms Adamson : That's true, but this is a very flexible mode.

Senator WONG: I understand that.

Ms Adamson : It was also linked to a new website.

Mr Todd : I have some answers to those questions. We started to advise people who had registered on the old Smartraveller website starting in September 2010 and posted on the Smartraveller social media platform. We then wrote to all registrants twice about the changes. There was one email to subscribers. There was one email to subscribers in the week of 14 October 2019 and one on 19 November 2019. We provided background briefings to media outlets, including the Nine Fairfax group, which the Sydney Morning Herald is part of. The foreign minister—

Senator WONG: Did we advise the ABC? I just noticed that they were telling people to register?

Mr Todd : I am pretty sure they were. Just because they receive a brief doesn't necessarily mean—

Senator WONG: MPs and senators?

Mr Todd : I think there has been no formal approach yet—

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

Senator WONG: Okay. I want to briefly ask some questions about our region. Obviously, amongst the risk vectors are outbreaks in our near region. In terms of assisting or supporting our nearer neighbours with the handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, we already have a health security initiative for the Indo-Pacific region. Is our primary assistance to the region for these purposes via that or is the government considering providing additional support to South-East Asia and the Pacific in terms of handling the outbreak?

Senator Payne: I might start at a relatively high level and then ask the officials to respond, particularly in relation to the Pacific and Timor Leste. Yes, the health initiative that you referred to is of course extant, but this is requiring quite direct bilateral engagement with our Pacific neighbours in particular. Posts and the department here and indeed I, to a certain degree, are in contact with counterparts and with their colleagues in the region. We've provided responses to requests for assistance for things like laboratory diagnosis, for PPE for healthcare workers.

Senator WONG: I'm actually just asking, though, is this additional funding or is it via the existing aid program?

Senator Payne: Part of it is through emergency funding, but I'll ask officials to go into the details of that.

Mr Thomson : As to the assistance that we've provided to the Pacific island countries—there is a combination of funding that the minister has approved from the emergency fund and, in a couple of cases, for instance, in the case of the Solomon Islands, we were assisting them with some temporary quarantine facilities. That's coming out of the bilateral aid program. In a couple of other cases we've had some small requests. In the case of, say, Fiji and Vanuatu, there have been some small requests that we've covered out of the bilateral aid program. The funding from the emergency fund has been predominantly used to fund PPE, personal protection equipment, to Fiji, Timor Leste and Papa New Guinea at this point in time.

Senator WONG: And PNG?

Mr Thomson : Yes.

Senator WONG: Timor Leste, whose program we have recently reduced in terms of the ODA budget?

Mr Thomson : I'm sorry. I don't cover East Timor. I don't have the figures.

Senator WONG: As I understand it, we're drawing down from various bilateral programs? We have also provided additional funding out of the emergency fund?

Mr Thomson : So far out of DFAT's emergency fund the minister has approved $5.65 million.

Senator WONG: And that's for Fiji, East Timor and PNG primarily? Was that right?

Ms Adamson : Solomons.

Senator WONG: Sorry, and the Solomons; yes, you did say that.

Mr Thomson : The largest expenditure so far to the Solomons has come out of the bilateral aid program. That is about 280—

Senator WONG: Have other projects or programs within any of the bilateral aid programs had to be diverted for these purposes?

Mr Thomson : In the cases where we've had the small requests, the division that I lead will go out to the post and say, 'Do you have capacity to cover this in your existing bilateral program?' In the cases where we have used the existing program, it's been relatively small amounts of money and they've been able to cover it. But for the larger expenditures we're drawing on the funds that have been approved out of the emergency fund.

Senator WONG: Indonesia? Are we providing any assistance to Indonesia?

Ms Adamson : Across the globe really but more obviously in South-East Asia and also in the southwest Pacific the COVID-19 preparedness and response is increasingly bilateral, including with Indonesia.

Senator WONG: We've reduced the assistance for health programs in Indonesia by some 86 per cent. Leaving aside the number of Indonesians who still live in very challenging circumstances, and the state of the public health system in some parts of Indonesia, we have a direct interest in assisting in managing this, given our close relationship.

Ms Adamson : Yes, we do.

Senator WONG: The government reduced by I think 86 per cent the health program funding to Indonesia through the ODA program. I'd like to know: are we doing anything given the outbreak to assist our Indonesian friends in terms of both public health, travel arrangements—

Ms Adamson : Just let me be clear perhaps before I invite our recently announced but extraordinarily capable for a very long period of time on health matters Ambassador for Regional Health Security, Stephanie Williams, to speak. To go to the point that you've made about development assistance funding and the ability for us to respond to COVID-19 and assist our partners, there is really no link. We are able to do everything that we need to do to work with them on preparedness and on testing when it comes to supplies of PPE, as we call it, personal protective equipment. We have the emergency fund to draw on. But the really valuable and critical thing doesn't come from the program, it comes from the links between health professionals, the advice that they can provide and—

Senator WONG: Secretary—

Ms Adamson : And that's what they want.

Senator WONG: Sure, but please don't come in here—I understand you've had to do this, because these are budget decisions, but no-one surely is going to say that reducing, from a bilateral perspective and a relationship perspective, health programs in Indonesia is a great thing for Australia.

Ms Adamson : What I—

Senator WONG: I understand what you're saying. You are making a different point, which is the crisis response or immediate response, which you're saying needs to focus primarily on supporting health professionals, et cetera. I was making a broader point, but it's in the context of a diminishing amount of assistance from Australia to Indonesia, a country that matters to us greatly.

Ms Adamson : It does, and we maintain deep links in the health sector with a range of countries, including Indonesia.

Ms Williams : Just to add as part of the government's health security initiative and relevant to the operational responses to the COVID-19 outbreak, the government has made a contribution to the World Health Organization's world health emergencies program of $20 million. That contribution was made in 2017 for a period of five years. Relevant to that, as well, the funding for positions, technical officers in both the South-East Asian and western Pacific offices of the WHO responsible for coordinating the global outbreak alerts and response network. The South-East Asian office of WHO provides support to all regional country offices, including Indonesian country office.

Senator WONG: Before the break, I was going to ask some questions about the US, China and in particular the phase 1 trade deal. I hope you have some officials who can help.

Ms Adamson : Of course.

Senator WONG: You will be very pleased to know I have to be on the direct flight to Adelaide this evening.

Ms Adamson : Oh!

Senator WONG: You could've pretended not to be so happy. She actually gasped happily.

Ms Adamson : I look forward to the direct flight to Adelaide.

CHAIR: Haven't they brought it forward, Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: Very funny. I have an International Women's Day—

Ms Adamson : I have fond thoughts of Adelaide.

Senator WONG: Methinks she doth protest too much! I did want to ask this here, if people are okay with that?

Ms Adamson : Certainly.

Senator WONG: Others will handle the trade portfolio after the dinner break. I do have some questions regarding the phase 1 trade deal signed in January between the United States and China, which I understand inter alia includes the purchase of US energy, manufacturing, agricultural and other exports in exchange for tariff reductions. That's a very simple way of describing it, which you're welcome to correct. Is the agreement operational and have you done any assessment of the potential effect on Australian exports as a consequence of the deal? That our exports would be replaced by—

Ms Adamson : We're going to do the best we can and I'll help my colleagues.

Senator WONG: I gave you an incentive by saying I'm leaving.

Ms Adamson : I have my colleague who heads our division responsible for the USA. I have the Chief Economist, the acting First Assistant Secretary, North Asia Division, which covers China.

Senator WONG: You give all dep secs a leave pass, don't you?

Ms Adamson : I do. They're forever grateful, by the way.

Senator WONG: We'll just leave that hanging.

Senator Payne: Sometimes I think we should put them through this.

Senator WONG: I'm sure if Senator Payne and I did a unity ticket—

Ms Adamson : There are colleagues who have the technical trade knowledge who aren't at the table. I have some of that. We'll do our best.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to get a sense of this. Is it operational? Has the government undertaken any work to assess whether Australian exports might be affected as a consequence of the deal operationalising?

Mr Chittick : The deal was signed on 15 January this year, and implementation has commenced. Your characterisation, I think, covers part of the deal. The United States paused some of its planned tariff increases and reduced some of its existing tariff increases. Some of the Chinese parts of the deal, in terms of their obligations, include purchasing targets to increase United States exports. Those cover a number of sectors in a broad sense, including manufactured goods, agriculture, energy and services. There are specific broad targets in those sectors. At a commodity level, we understand there are also targets, but the United States and China have not released the specific purchase targets for commodity level—

Senator WONG: Which commodities?

Mr Chittick : It includes coal, LNG, beef, cotton, sheep meat, offal, wheat, dairy products, barley, wine, beer and horticultural products.

Senator WONG: Coal, wheat and barley. So, the next stage of my question: effect on Australia? An assessment of that?

Dr Gordon : There's a really interesting analysis that DFAT has been doing, and also with other colleagues, looking at the likely impacts on the Australian economy. There are a number of questions about the ability, first, of China to actually expand its demand sufficiently to meet some of these targets.

Senator WONG: One would assume there may therefore be some import replacement?

Dr Gordon : There potentially will be some import replacement.

Senator WONG: As to the list your colleague Mr Chittick read out of important replacements—tell me about the chances of those affecting Australian exports to China.

Ms Adamson : I might actually ask Mr Mina to talk about that.

Senator WONG: Dr Gordon was telling me about a very interesting economic analysis.

Ms Adamson : From a practical trade perspective, because when I was explaining the expertise we have at the table before, I was rather hoping Mr Mina might step up, because this is obviously something that we—

Senator WONG: He and I have talked before.

Ms Adamson : You have. Of course, you can question whichever witness you want to, but I know Mr Mina has some thoughts on this as well.

Senator WONG: Dr Gordon, did you want to finish your sentence? I interrupted you. You said, 'We've done some interesting work on'—

CHAIR: Can you remember what the sentence was?

Dr Gordon : I can. The likely impact on Australia is actually about just how compliant the Chinese are going to be with the agreement. There is potential for some trade displacement for Australia, which generally has an impact on prices.

Senator WONG: That was a better way of explaining it.

Dr Gordon : Our LNG is largely locked down in long-term contracts. The impact of coronavirus and force majeure is probably going to have a larger effect on that. While spot prices of LNG have fallen by about 20 per cent, very little of our LNG is traded on spot markets.

Senator WONG: Coal?

Dr Gordon : Coal prices have actually been stable, even with corona. That is largely because of supply constraints in Brazil. There are other factors. With iron ore, the price has fallen about 10 per cent, but that's is largely corona as well and due to lower demand at the moment because steel mills aren't working in China. The impact of the trade agreement might see some displacement, but it's expected to be relatively minor—partly also because US suppliers are unable to expand production. This is particularly true with LNG; it'll take them a while to build the resources they need to liquefy and export the LNG gas. A number of elements make people wonder how compliant they will be with this trade agreement and what the consequences of that will be.

Senator WONG: Essentially it was a thorough answer, but as I understand it your first answer is whether or not China complies with the deal is the primary or substantial driver in terms of the effect on the Australian economy?

Ms Adamson : From an economist's perspective—and I was one once, but I wouldn't call myself one anymore—that's a very good analysis. From a practical on-the-ground point of view, a number of Australian products—those referred to by Mr Chittick—have particular characteristics that make them very suitable for whatever it is that the Chinese are manufacturing. It could be the kind of wheat that our wheat industry is growing to make Chinese noodles. There is a whole range of microeconomic factors that come into play.

Part of our role, obviously, is to ensure as broader DFAT, including working with Austrade, that we are able to work within this phase 1 trade deal to protect the interests of our exporters. There is a WTO element to this. I would like Mr Mina to speak to that. We have quite a bit of diplomacy at play—

Senator WONG: Mr Mina, I actually do want to explore that. I have three minutes, and the chair is tough on me.

CHAIR: On the promise you're leaving early we could extend for a few minutes.

Senator WONG: Before I come to that, I do want to ask this question. Mr Hockey, our then ambassador to the US, described the agreement in the media on 16 January in these terms: 'It's written on rice paper. Anyone can tear it up at any moment.' Can you please explain to me what that means?

Ms Adamson : I'm not sure that I can, but I—

Senator WONG: Is this an official departmental position? I'm not joking.

Ms Adamson : We welcome the fact that they reached agreement, because the uncertainty in the absence of an agreement was affecting the global economy and, in fact, depressing some elements of it.

Senator WONG: Did he discuss with you his planned comments to the press ahead of making them, that this was 'a deal written on rice paper'?

Ms Adamson : No, he didn't.

Senator WONG: Is that a term you would use?

Ms Adamson : We all express ourselves differently. I would say we welcome the deal and take a close interest in its implementation. Dr Gordon has alluded to some of the elements.

Senator WONG: That would be a professional way of describing it, wouldn't it? Can anyone tell me what they think is meant by 'a deal written on rice paper'?

Ms Adamson : One could speculate but I'd prefer not to.

CHAIR: One could speculate that the physical characteristics of certain types of papers might be stronger than others.

Senator WONG: He was still the ambassador at the time. Did the ambassador's public comments reflect the government's position?

Senator Payne: They were not discussed with the government, Senator. They're the ambassador's comments.

Senator WONG: And they weren't discussed with you or the trade minister, to your knowledge?

Senator Payne: No.

Senator WONG: Helpful. Do ambassadors often do that, Secretary—make comments to the domestic press without making sure that it's consistent with the position of the government?

Senator Payne: Not often, Senator.

Senator WONG: No.

Senator Payne: It does happen from time to time.

Senator WONG: Yes, so I gather, for certain appointees. I think Senator Birmingham actually described the deal as 'welcome news' the day after. Senator Birmingham was probably more reflective of the government's position than former Ambassador Hockey.

Senator Payne: We have certainly welcomed it, Senator.

Senator WONG: I'm happy to go to Mr Mina now, Chair, but I'm aware of the time constraints. What do you want to do? I can come back to the WTO afterwards.

Mr Mina : If I could simply say that we, of course, are making the point to both parties about the need for implementation to be consistent with WTO rules, and in a non-discriminatory fashion. But a lot of this stuff is high-level, aspirational commitments and a lot of the detail is going to be quite important.

Senator WONG: Can I decode that? Consistency with WTO would mean that—well, you'd need to explain it to me. I have an assumption about what it means. But can you tell me what it means in terms of China's commitment to, let's say, coal, which is obviously an important commodity? What would we say that meant in relation to China's commitment—I think it's in monetary terms, isn't it, the arrangement—to buy X US dollars worth of US coal? What does Australia say that actually means?

Mr Mina : As I said, Senator, I think these are high-level, aspirational purchasing commitments. What is not clear yet is the manner in which they are going to be carried out—the implementation of those purchasing commitments. As I think others have said, there are some big supply constraints involved. But what we are saying is that if—

Senator WONG: I understood that.

Mr Mina : there are measures contemplated by either side to give effect to these agreements, they need to be consistent with WTO rules.

Senator WONG: And I—

Mr Mina : That generally means, Senator—generally—non-discrimination in the way the two parties relate to each other for treaty-level commitments. Now, they could be aspirational or they could be actually—

Senator WONG: Is it our government's position that it would not be WTO-compliant, for example, for China to choose to buy US coal that is at a higher price or of lesser quality than Australian coal?

Mr Mina : Senator, a lot depends here on the detail. If commercial enterprises are—

Senator WONG: Mr Mina, perhaps for after the break, what I want to understand is what our assertion is.

Mr Mina : Our assertion is—

Senator WONG: I get the real-life point—you know, to what extent is the arrangement actually going to be implemented? I get the points that you have made and that Dr Gordon has made. But I'm actually trying to understand what we are articulating to the United States and to China about the WTO rules that we say are applicable, and how we say, in our engagement, that that ought constrain or guide the implementation of that agreement. And then I want to understand if we've had any response to that. Thank you.

CHAIR: That was the last question.

Senator WONG: I'm giving Mr Mina notice so we can come back to it after the break.

CHAIR: Done. The committee stands adjourned.

Proceedings suspended from 22 : 33 to 22 : 48

CHAIR: We will resume. I understand Senator Faruqi has questions for the department until such time as the minister returns.

Senator FARUQI: Good morning, and thanks for coming in today. I'll start off with some questions on the Climate Change Action Strategy which the department has developed. I just want to know what global warming scenario that climate action strategy is based on.

Ms Adamson : I'll ask the Ambassador for the Environment, Jamie Isbister, to come to the table and answer your question.

Mr Isbister : The Climate Change Action Strategy has been developed, obviously, to look at how we better integrate climate change into the aid program across all our investments.

Senator FARUQI: Yes, sure. Sorry, I have limited time. I know what it does, but I particularly want to ask about which global warming scenario it's based on. Is it 1.5 degrees of warming? Is it two degrees of warming? What is it?

Mr Isbister : It's focused on our commitments in the Paris Agreement, and the Paris Agreement is, obviously, focused on keeping global temperatures below two degrees and as close to 1.5 as possible.

Senator FARUQI: I understand that the department did work closely with the Bureau of Meteorology in coming up with that report. But I'm just wondering if you've seen the BOM's latest advice that we're heading for a world of 3.4 degrees of warming and four degrees of warming in Australia? What's the plan for the department to actually update the current strategy, which isn't based on 3.4 or four degrees of warming?

Mr Isbister : Yes, I'm aware of the report that you referred that BOM contributed to. I think the key thing to note is, obviously, the Paris Agreement. The essence of the Paris Agreement is that, over time, it's building ambition and, over time, it's focused on emissions reduction. The projections that the BOM report refers to are in relation to the commitments that are now made under the Paris Agreement moving in that direction. But the Paris Agreement is about building and ratcheting ambition over time with the objective of keeping overall warming under two degrees.

Senator FARUQI: Yes. But, if that's the scenario that the strategy is based on, obviously that is not the scenario we know that we are going to get to with the current commitments of this government and many governments around the world. We are going to get to four degrees warming. Are you looking at any plans of updating this particular strategy from two degrees to four degrees?

Mr Isbister : Again, what I come back to is that the four degrees is assuming there are no additional increases at all made by any countries around reducing emissions. The Paris Agreement has commitments to back countries over time, increasing their emission reduction efforts. The strategy is focused on how we are best addressing those challenges. It's focused on, obviously, looking at the issues around food security and water security challenges, the implications that climate change may have on communities in our region and how to best support and address them to both adapt to potential changes—

Senator FARUQI: Sure, but I guess the question goes to the risks changing quite dramatically with a four degree rise. How are those risks now being addressed? Have you had any chats with the minister, for instance? Has the department talked about this four degree rise with the minister or with the government?

Mr Isbister : We have regular and constant conversations across government about the science and the implications it has—

Senator FARUQI: I'm asking a very particular question about the four degree rise in temperature.

Mr Isbister : Obviously, it's in the BOM report, and it's an issue which is being discussed across government.

Senator FARUQI: I'm asking about the particular strategy that I'm interested in at this moment—the Climate Change Action Strategy—that the department has for Australia's development assistance program. Have you had particular discussions with the minister or with the government on this information about the four degree rise?

Mr Isbister : I come back and say that there are a range of reports that come out. The most recent one you've flagged is identifying the targets right now—what they project to in terms of increases. If at COP26—as we know various countries et cetera will be looking at their targets—those targets increase, that will reduce what those temperature rises will meet in the Paris Agreement, which we're all committed to. We're focused on keeping overall temperatures below two degrees. That's therefore what we've got to be focusing on ensuring—that the investments and the partnerships that we've got are meeting the Paris Agreement and are going to be able to keep temperatures below two degrees.

Senator FARUQI: Obviously, we want to keep warming below two degrees. But, on current policy, we're heading for a four degree rise. There might have to have an increase in foreign aid. Have you discussed that within the department?

Mr Isbister : The issue, again, is how we address the Paris Agreement. Australia has been very clear on that. We've got a clear target. We've got climate financing commitments that will address that, but there's—

Senator FARUQI: Sorry to interrupt you, but we also know that current policy settings are not going to get us there. So where's the discussion on how to change that?

Mr Isbister : Current policy settings. But also, as I said, the Paris Agreement is very specific and very clear about countries increasing ambition over time with the objective of keeping warming under two degrees. The minister has announced a review of the aid program, and obviously one of the issues that we looked at in that is how the aid program continues to address and deal with the impacts of climate change.

Senator FARUQI: When is the next revision of the climate change action strategy?

Mr Isbister : It was released in November, so it's only a few months old. If you look in the strategy, it's got a clear implementation and ongoing tracking of the strategy, which includes regular IDC meetings across government.

Senator FARUQI: So it's not really going to be reviewed in light of the new information that we have—that we're headed for four degrees? Sorry, I'm a bit baffled here.

Ms Adamson : No. The strategy was very carefully considered and honed before it was released towards the end of last year. It provides guidance to staff across our system. The very first line in the executive summary is that the world's climate is changing faster than most scientists expected even five years ago, so we're aware of the dynamic. And the policies that we've put in place, of course, are subject to discussion as we go along, but the broad lines of effort, if I can put it that way, are very much set. As with anything we do, we keep under review where our priorities are and what we need to be doing. I think Mr Isbister set that out clearly in terms of his work. In terms of the guidance that this provides, I am satisfied that it remains a useful document and does, in fact, provide guidance to the work of our staff.

Senator FARUQI: So you don't need to revise it for a higher degree rise of temperature?

Ms Adamson : No, Senator.

Senator FARUQI: One of the key objectives of the strategy is to promote the shift to lower emissions development in the Indo-Pacific region. Does that mean that you're ruling out that any of our foreign aid budget will go to fossil fuel companies here or elsewhere? Could you rule that out?

Senator Payne: Can you explain to the officials what you mean?

Senator FARUQI: The key objective of the strategy is to promote the shift to lower emissions development in the Indo-Pacific region, and the strategy also admits that the main source of greenhouse emissions is from burning fossil fuels for energy. So what I'm asking is: given that and given that it is a climate action strategy, can you rule out any of our foreign aid budget will go to fossil fuel companies indirectly or directly through development?

Senator Payne: Can you provide the officers with an example of what you mean?

Senator FARUQI: We could talk about the electrification program, for instance, in PNG, where the foreign aid budget is going. Could we use that as an example to see that the electrification won't be through fossil fuel projects?

Mr Isbister : The focus of the strategy and the focus of the investments that we're making are to move to a low carbon emissions economy. The focus is around how we're increasing investment in renewable energies. For example, in the Solomons we're looking at how the Solomons' electricity can be predominantly drawn from hydro, which moves them off large amounts of diesel usage, which we know is both expensive and emits large amounts of carbon. So the focus of the strategy is very much around, over time, how we're working with countries in our region to transition and move to low carbon emissions investments.

Senator FARUQI: I understand that. My question was: does that actually rule out fossil fuel projects given that's the focus?

Mr Isbister : It depends to an extent on the investments and partners that we're working with. I can't see a situation or scenario—

Senator FARUQI: But there are conditions often set on how this aid will be delivered. Is there a condition set that fossil fuels will not be part of that aid, that it will be on renewable energies?

Mr Isbister : I'll take on notice the issue of whether or not there's a specific ruling in relation to not funding fossil fuels overseas through the aid program. What I'll very strongly say is that I can't see a scenario or situation with the aid program, which is focused on moving to a low carbon emissions economy, funding fossil fuels. It's about moving to renewables. It's about moving to ways these countries in our region over time will be able to meet their Paris commitments of keeping temperature rises under two degrees.

Senator FARUQI: Going to that electrification project, is the $250 million that was already announced by the Prime Minister for the PNG electrification last year in addition to what was previously announced as aid for PNG? Is the electrification project in addition to the $250 million that was previously announced?

Ms Klugman : At least $250 million that the Prime Minister announced for electrification and related projects in Papua New Guinea will be part of Australia's commitment to support energy-efficient infrastructure development in our near region. There are lots of subcomponents to that electrification project. Some of them are solar. Some of them have got to do with hydro and biomass. There are also off-grid solutions that we're supporting through that. But, Senator, you asked about the financing of the $250 million.

Senator FARUQI: Yes.

Ms Klugman : At least $250 million of the contribution that Australia will make to spread electrification in Papua New Guinea, which is a priority of the Papua New Guinea government, will come in part from our bilateral aid budget in Papua New Guinea, but I expect that our new Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific—the AIFFP—will also make a significant contribution to that.

Senator FARUQI: So is it loans and grants?

Ms Klugman : It's likely to be a mix of loans and grants, yes.

Senator FARUQI: So the $250 million is not just grants?

Ms Klugman : The $250 million will be a measure of grants, but I'm expecting some further involvement of AIFFP in that sector in Papua New Guinea.

Senator FARUQI: I just have a question about expertise and the number of people who have climate expertise in the department. How many people have climate expertise and are dedicated to working on looking at the climate crisis and the impacts?

Mr Isbister : What my—I would say that, with the strategy, the focus of the strategy is about looking at how we're integrating and mainstreaming climate change into the program. So there are people who have certainly got expertise in a range of areas around the impacts of climate change, both food security and water security expertise. There are people who've got expertise in relation to climate change negotiations and the history of that. So I think to just narrow it down to sort of people who are simply climate change experts depends on the area, whether it's in adaptation or resilience or whether it's around negotiation aspects et cetera.

Senator FARUQI: Sure. How many of those people do you have in the department?

Ms Adamson : Perhaps I can just add to that. We have quite a number of people in the department—not all of them currently serving in those roles but a number of them in senior positions with climate change expertise, including colleagues who served in the former Department of Climate Change. But I'm confident that we have all of the expertise that we need to be able to provide advice to government and to implement our strategy.

Senator FARUQI: Could you please take that on notice and just give me an idea of how many people you have and what their expertise is?

Ms Adamson : Can I—I'm reluctant to take on notice a question that would require considerable resources to answer in terms of people's expertise, but we have at the deputy secretary level several positions, at the first assistant secretary level, colleagues in Mr Isbister's branch, colleagues at posts overseas who have detailed expertise in this area, and it's something that we continue to foster.

Senator FARUQI: So you're not willing to provide a number of how many people have that expertise?

Ms Adamson : How many people we have with expertise in anything, whether it's Chinese language or economics—

Senator FARUQI: I'm not asking for anything—I'm asking for climate expertise.

Ms Adamson : Senator, any number that I gave you would be an imperfect representation of our ability to deal with the issues, because in some cases people have been involved consistently in negotiations over decades and in other cases they're currently working in different areas. It would be a snapshot at a moment in time. We have considerable expertise in this area. As with any question asked by the committee in relation to this, it doesn't lend itself to a precise number.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I've got some questions to ask about Julian Assange and his extradition trial in the UK. I might start by asking the minister, but if she feels it should go to other representatives, I'm happy. I understand the government's position is that Australia can't intervene in a court proceeding of another state, but Australia can advocate for due legal process. Just quickly, are Australian representatives monitoring Julian Assange's trial in the UK?

Senator Payne: Most definitely..

Senator WHISH-WILSON: How are you doing that, Minister?

Senator Payne: Through the High Commission in London. Officers from the High Commission are providing advice—summaries, I would say—of proceedings through the normal channels, both to me and to senior officials in the department. But I might ask either Mr Todd or Mr Larson to add to that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: And could you also just answer whether we have people in the courtroom during—watching proceedings.

Mr Todd : Yes, we have consular and High Commission officials in the court throughout each hearing.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. So do you have anything to add about the observations?

Mr Todd : That they're providing us with very timely—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Are they providing reports back to you, for example, or what's the process?

Mr Todd : They're providing factual reports back to the department and the minister on what proceedings have transpired and what the arguments were raised. It's a very factual summary that we get pretty close to the end of—to the court hearing ending.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Thank you. You'd be aware of reports that Julian is not confident he can speak to or instruct his lawyers in private from the glass-fronted dock, where he has been placed in a glass room while the hearing is in progress. He has also complained about noise outside and that he can't hear proceedings. Have you confirmed that this is the case or have your consular officials confirmed that this is the case?

Mr Todd : We're aware of those issues being raised. We're also aware that the court has reached a decision on those matters and agreed that the provisions in that court are standard procedures, and the magistrate hearing the case has decided to have those provisions remain in place.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That may well be the magistrate's view, Mr Todd. Have you formed any other view as to whether he is able to instruct his lawyers in confidence when the trial is in progress? What is your feedback on that?

Mr Todd : We're not in the position to comment on that, Senator. We're observing the court. We have limited access and availability to report on Mr Assange because of the decision that was taken by him to withdraw consent for information to be provided about his circumstances in the prison to us last year. We have written to him—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I'm aware of that. We've discussed this in private, too, Mr Todd.

Mr Todd : Yes, we have.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: That's not what I'm focused—

Mr Todd : We are attempting to provide consular services to him. We are attempting to visit with him. We have offered our assistance and we have retained—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Sorry, I'm going to stop you shortly, Mr Todd, because I know Senator Abetz is going to be monitoring with precision my timing. I'm more interested in whether you're observing whether he's—whether a fair trial is being held. I do believe that is a role that Australia can advocate for in terms of due legal process, and you can raise those concerns with your UK counterparts if you believe that is the case. Are you saying you don't believe that is the case?

Mr Todd : At this stage we have not received any information to suggest that anything other than due process is being followed in the United Kingdom.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. Could I—you may have also seen reports that Julian was handcuffed 11 times, stripped naked twice and had his case files confiscated after the first day of his extradition hearing. Have you confirmed that that is the case?

Mr Todd : We sought advice from the prison in relation to those reports and we were advised that, other than the issue with legal documents, they were standard prison-to-court and court-to-prison procedures.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Minister, do you believe that's fair treatment of an Australian citizen?

Senator Payne: I understand, and to take from what Mr Todd has said in relation to how prisoners going to court are dealt with in the United Kingdom system, that there are a range of procedures which the equivalent of the corrective services agencies—I presume that would be the title—undertake. It doesn't matter who the person in question is who is appearing before the court as the defendant. So the approach taken in relation to Mr Assange is no different than the approach taken to others. That is a matter for the United Kingdom system. In relation to the matter of legal documents, Mr Todd may have more to add on this, but I understand that there has been an acknowledgement that an error was made in that matter and the documents accordingly returned. I trust we have determined that that won't occur again.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: And that was because of the intervention of DFAT officials or was it—

Senator Payne: Through the High Commission—I believe so, but I won't take credit for that if it was not. But I believe that to be the case.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. In relation to extraordinary matters, it was revealed last week in court that meetings between Julian and his lawyers inside the Ecuadorian embassy had been secretly filmed. Have you confirmed that that is the case, Minister?

Senator Payne: Senator, that is not a matter which goes to our ability to confirm or otherwise. That would be my understanding. But, if Mr Todd has any more to add in relation to what the High Commission has sought information on in Britain, I will ask him to do so.

Mr Todd : Those allegations are subject to separate court proceedings in Spain, as I understand it.

Senator Payne: And there is also that point.

Mr Todd : We are aware of those hearings and will monitor as best we can what those hearings reveal.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you raised concerns that it would be a breach of due legal process—an extraordinary breach of due legal process—if that occurred? Have you at least raised those concerns with the UK and the US?

Mr Todd : At this stage we haven't. We are awaiting the conclusion of legal processes to determine the validity or otherwise of the allegations.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Leaving it to a foreign court is one thing. Do you not have a view from your own expertise and your own observations as to the treatment of an Australian citizen in this regard? I wouldn't leave it to a foreign court, to be honest. Why are you?

Mr Todd : I don't think it's appropriate that my personal views are expressed here. I'm representing the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Sorry, I meant you in the sense of DFAT and the government.

Mr Todd : What we seek to assure is that due legal process and the standards and conditions that apply to citizens in any country apply to Australian citizens undergoing a legal process in that country.

Senator Payne: Can I ask Mr Larsen to add to that, please, Senator.

Mr Larsen : Obviously, in circumstances where you have contested legal proceedings in a variety of different jurisdictions, as you will know and your comments at the outset underscored, ultimately those legal proceedings have to take their course. You have a variety of contested facts in issue. Ultimately, the question of whether or not this alleged activity impacted on the rights of Mr Assange may well be something which will be relevant to the United Kingdom court proceedings. It would have to be fully tested in those proceedings.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. So what you're saying is that it potentially jeopardises the chance of Julian receiving a fair trial—potentially—

Mr Larsen : Senator, I didn't say that.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: No, I'm just saying in terms of your comment about how it may affect the proceedings. So let me say it—it could potentially jeopardise the chance of him receiving a fair trial. If it's true it's a considerable breach of legal professional privilege. Can you at least advocate your concerns over these allegations?

Mr Larsen : My observation on this is that the Australian government has a very high level of confidence in the British criminal legal process. We have no evidence to suggest that he is receiving treatment that is different from any other person in his circumstances. The longstanding Australian position in relation to representations concerning legal proceedings is that, in circumstances where an Australian is prejudiced as a consequence of being an Australian national in those court proceedings or there is some other gross violation of rights, that is a matter that the Australian government would seek to intervene in. But there is simply no evidence, I think, in relation to the United Kingdom court proceedings at the present time which would found an Australian concern.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Mr Larsen, in relation to the Spanish court proceedings, have you at least asked the UK to delay or expressed any concerns around the continued trial of Julian Assange—that the UK trial doesn't continue until the Spanish court has made a deliberation in this regard?

Mr Larsen : As you would appreciate, it's not the practice of the Australian government to interfere in—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I'm not asking you to interfere—I'm asking you to advocate around due process.

Mr Larsen : We are not a party to the legal proceedings in the United Kingdom, so, no, we haven't done so and I wouldn't expect we would.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I'm not asking you—to be very clear—as you highlighted in my preamble, I understand you can't intervene in court proceedings of another state, but you can advocate for due legal process and raise concerns with your counterparts. Will you ask them to delay the proceedings in the UK court until the Spanish court has deliberated on this matter? That is a fair and reasonable thing to ask on behalf of an Australian citizen.

Mr Larsen : That position will no doubt be taken into consideration in considering our next steps.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Okay. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer—I asked the minister in the Senate about this a few weeks ago—said the case of Julian Assange is a modern show trial featuring politically motivated prosecutors, denial of justice, manipulated evidence, biased judges, unlawful surveillance, denial of defence rights and abusive prison conditions. Does DFAT have any view on whether there is any truth in what the special rapporteur of the United Nations is saying?

Senator Payne: I'll ask the officials to respond, but I will reiterate that I stand by the response I gave you in the Senate that day. I'll also note for the record that, to the best of my knowledge and advice, at no point in time has the special rapporteur been in any contact with the Australian government to raise these concerns directly. But I will ask officials to comment.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Well, that would be a worry, wouldn't it, Minister. It would be concerning that they haven't raised that with you.

Mr Todd : I can confirm what the minister said—that the special rapporteur has not been in contact with the Australian government to raise his current concerns or his previous suggestions that the Australian government was complicit.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Do you know why that is the case, Mr Todd—why they haven't been in touch with you?

Mr Todd : I have—I cannot comment. I just don't know. But in terms of due process I think the foreign minister made it very clear on 25 February this year that Mr Assange is entitled to due process and we expect the legal systems in both the US and the UK to deliver. If there are legal issues, he has an expert legal team that has an ability to represent his concerns and his issues in a judicial system that we have every confidence in. We see that, if these are genuine concerns held by Mr Assange and his legal team, he has adequate avenues to raise them at a court of law in the UK—

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Apologies for interrupting. It seems to be that the—there's an asymmetry here. Nils Melzer hasn't reached out and contacted you. Given the extraordinary nature of his very public claims—because this is a global issue, not just an issue for Australia and Australian citizens—have you sought to have a meeting with him? Minister, would you meet with him if I arranged it to discuss his concerns?

Senator Payne: Senator, I would expect those concerns to be raised appropriately as matters are usually with us. They have not been so raised. I would assure you, as I also did in the chamber, that I did raise these matters on a number of matters concerning Mr Assange with the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raabe, when he was here about three weeks ago now to indicate our expectations and our understanding of the due process that Mr Assange would receive in the UK system. I've also raised matters which have been brought to our attention in relation to conditions or claimed conditions in Belmarsh Prison and ensured that the High Commission has taken those up appropriately with authorities in the UK. I am actively seized of those issues as they are brought to my attention and we do address them. What the special rapporteur does or does not do is a matter for him, but I do think it is important, given what he has had to say, to note for the record that he has not been in contact with the government.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Have you been in contact with him, Minister?

Senator Payne: Senator, I am not the person who is raising those issues. The UN special rapporteur is raising those issues.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: You must be concerned about those concerns that he has raised.

Senator Payne: I've made clear that I have addressed any concerns I have through the appropriate channels—with UK authorities, via the High Commission and via officials.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: So picking up the phone is not an appropriate—

Senator ROBERTS: On 3 October 2019 the Prime Minister, during an address to the Lowy Institute, committed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to 'conduct a comprehensive audit of global institutions and rule-making processes where we have the greatest stake'. Have you been given a terms of reference or scope or guidelines to begin this audit?

Ms Adamson : I will invite my colleague Justin Lee to come to the table, but the answer is yes and the work is well advanced.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you. What are those terms of reference?

Dr Lee : As the secretary said, yes, the work on the audit of multilateral institutions is well advanced and is something that the department is taking forward as a priority. In terms of the objective of the exercise and the terms of reference, we are particularly looking at how we prioritise and target our efforts in multilateral institutions and where we continue to take those efforts forward, particularly taking into account some of the key interests that Australia has in the system. We are very focused on UN specialised agencies. These are standard-setting agencies that underpin various elements of the Australian economy—organisations like the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Telecommunication Union. So that is where we are focusing our efforts at the moment.

Senator ROBERTS: Thank you. I think the Prime Minister from memory used words like 'bureaucratic' and 'internationalistic' and was expressing concerns about the sovereignty of our country being eroded. Will you be considering economic impacts as well as, say, cultural and also governance impacts?

Ms Adamson : I said to you that the work was well advanced, but the work is going through channels that will culminate in cabinet consideration and I'm not at liberty, really, to foreshadow exactly where that's going to end up. But we have been tackling it with enthusiasm. There are many ways in which Australia engages with the multilateral system. The system itself, of course, is far from perfect, but we have a wide range of interests engaged in it.

Senator ROBERTS: So it's well underway. When should we expect your review to be published?

Ms Adamson : That would be a matter for government.

Senator ROBERTS: When do you expect your review to be finished and handed to cabinet?

Ms Adamson : As I said, the work is well advanced. We are working across government through interdepartmental committees given the wide range of interests that are engaged. I would expect it to be reasonably soon, but I couldn't put a date on it because the priority given to various elements of government processes, obviously, is relative. But we have a broadly completed draft and we'll continue to engage government on it.

Senator ROBERTS: There are many channels through which the UN conducts some of its influence on this country. They include local government and state government policies and also federal government. Are you exploring all of those or just the federal government impact?

Dr Lee : Senator, we're engaging with federal government agencies and their relationships with multilateral institutions.

Senator ROBERTS: I'd suggest to you then that you'll miss out on initiatives like ICLEI—the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives—which is operating and doing a lot of damage through local government and also through some state government policies. It won't be complete without auditing those as well. But I don't have any further questions, Chair. Thank you very much.

Senator WONG: I'm returning to consular matters in relation to Mr Assange. I might have missed something as I was walking up, but while in my office I saw the questions from Senator Whish-Wilson. But I did have a couple of additional questions over and above that. I think you talked to the committee prior to that about the situation in relation to Mr Assange withdrawing consent. I think that there was the question asked and answered—I'm just going through the notes—about what expectations or requests had been made of the United Kingdom in respect of terms of any extradition. Perhaps we'll start with that. Mr Todd, can you provide us with an outline of the charges Mr Assange potentially faces in the United States and, more particularly, the sum of penalties he faces if found guilty?

Mr Todd : Yes. Mr Assange is currently facing extradition proceedings in the United Kingdom in relation to a number of alleged offences in the United States. I understand that he faces 17 counts of violating the US Espionage Act, including conspiracy to receive national defence information, obtaining national defence information and disclosure of national defence information.

Senator WONG: I think evidence has previously been given that none of those involve the death penalty. Is that right?

Mr Todd : That is correct.

Senator WONG: But I do want to know what the sum of the penalties might be.

Mr Todd : The law indicates that a maximum penalty for each of those offences is 10 years on each count—

Senator WONG: That's 170 years then.

Mr Todd : except for the conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, for which he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Senator WONG: But there's a potential there for a cumulative penalty, which is effectively the rest of his life?

Mr Todd : The other advice that we've received is that, for similar offences in the United States, the cumulative approach has not been applied and a somewhat or significantly less period of time in jail has been proposed.

Senator WONG: Say that again, that last bit.

Mr Todd : The advice that we've received—it's very hard to find exact case law that marries up, but advice that we have received indicates that, for people charged with similar offences, the cumulative approach was not taken, so 175 years—

Senator WONG: But none of this is—this is almost without—sorry, Mr Larsen?

Mr Larsen : I will actually answer by revealing my ignorance, I suspect, but the answer to the question is that we don't know. Yes, it could be cumulative, but we don't know.

Senator WONG: Have we made any representations in respect of that?

Mr Larsen : In the United States? I would have to ask Mr Todd.

Senator WONG: Or to the UK in terms of what conditions might be associated with any extradition.

Mr Larsen : I can answer in relation to the UK process—

Senator WONG: No, I didn't ask that. I asked about what we have done.

Mr Larsen : I'm not aware of any representations to the UK.

Senator WONG: Have we made any representations to the United Kingdom about any terms of any extradition should that be ordered by the court?

Mr Todd : We've not sought to do that at this stage. We are aware, though, that under UK law a person cannot be extradited to another country if they are to face the death penalty.

Senator Payne: Which is not the case in this matter.

Mr Todd : Which is not the case. So it doesn't apply.

Senator WONG: Correct. You've not made any representations in respect to Mr Assange?

Senator Payne: On this matter?

Senator WONG: On the issue of any terms—

Senator Payne: Not at this point.

Senator WONG: Would you, if that is an open prospect for government?

Senator Payne: Always.

Senator WONG: I think we have confirmed that, for those identified charges of 17 counts, none of those carry the death penalty. Correct?

Mr Todd : That's correct.

Senator WONG: There is a question which I think is in the public arena about the effect of a cumulative—

Mr Todd : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Which is in effect—I mean, you're not executed, but it's 100 and something years, which is an effective—I suppose imprisoned until you die. I understand the state of Virginia still has the death penalty. What has been raised publicly is the possibility that more charges could be laid against Mr Assange once extradited. Are you aware of this risk?

Mr Larsen : I'm not aware of the specifics, but I would imagine that that is a possibility, yes.

Senator WONG: Therefore, consistent with our bipartisan position that we seek an assurance that a person would not face the death penalty, would we consider making any representations to the UK about the prospect of charges carrying the death penalty being made against Mr Assange post extradition—that is, once he is in the US jurisdiction if extradition is ordered?

Mr Larsen : Of course, that is a possibility. I think, in relation to any representations to the United Kingdom, representations of that nature would put the United Kingdom in a very difficult position, because you would be speculating as to criminal charges that might be brought against Mr Assange were he to be extradited to the United States.

Senator WONG: Well, it might put people in a difficult position, but we have a pretty blanket position in relation to the death penalty regardless of the crime that's been asserted.

Mr Larsen : In which case the correct location to make those representations would be the United States, at the time he was facing proceedings.

Senator WONG: Correct, but there's a court process in place—extradition proceedings. They will be determined. Correct?

Mr Larsen : That is correct, but—

Senator WONG: Thank you. We have an Australian. We have a view about the death penalty. The UK has a similar position. Obviously, there is a prospect which certainly has been raised publicly about the risk of charges, once in the US jurisdiction, that carry the death penalty. Presumably it is open to the Australian government to make representations to the UK government, in the event that extradition were ordered, about what conditions would apply to that.

Mr Larsen : Correct.

Senator WONG: And I just want to confirm with the minister that the government remains open to that prospect.

Senator Payne: Which I have confirmed.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Can I just go back. I know you touched on this with Senator Whish-Wilson. I think you indicated last year that Mr Assange had withdrawn his consent for the UK Ministry of Justice to release any information about him to the high commission in London. Is that withdrawal of consent still in effect?

Mr Todd : Yes.

Senator WONG: And has the high commission written to Mr Assange to confirm this?

Mr Todd : We have written on numerous occasions—in fact, on seven occasions—to Mr Assange, most recently on 31 January, to do two things: to seek his consent to discuss his conditions with prison officials and to offer him consular assistance.

Senator WONG: Seven times?

Mr Todd : Yes.

Senator WONG: Okay. Does the non-response mean that DFAT is effectively blocked from providing Mr Assange with consular assistance?

Mr Todd : We are still able to provide support to his next of kin, which we do. We can continue to raise, as we have done and as the minister has done, our interests and concerns about Mr Assange with both the UK government and the governor of the prison. Where we are unable to undertake our full consular responsibilities is in actually getting answers to detailed questions.

Senator WONG: Okay. Thank you very much for that. Does Mr Mina want to come back and finish the—

CHAIR: Chances are the answer to that is no, but I'm sure that he'll—

Ms Adamson : I think it's yes.

Senator WONG: I just want to know what we are advocating to the US and to China in relation to the implementation of that agreement in order to protect Australian producers and to protect the multilateral system which we have an interest in.

Mr Mina : As you would expect, we are making clear to both sides our expectation that the phase 1 agreement be implemented in a non-discriminatory fashion.

Senator WONG: What does that mean?

Mr Mina : That means, in accordance with the WTO, that, if there are directions from governments to their economies and to their businesses, they are implemented in a way that is generally open to other suppliers. There are qualifications in the WTO rules on that general principle, but that is the general principle we've been advocating.

Senator WONG: I don't actually understand how that works. I understand the words, but in a situation where you have a bilateral deal which essentially says, 'We promise to buy your coal', that's fundamentally contrary to nondiscrimination, surely. Explain to me, as opposed to us articulating a principle, what we're actually saying to the US and China about what we were seeking.

Mr Mina : There are two sets of achievements, if you like, in this phase 1 deal. The first relates to the purchasing agreements and the purchasing aspirations and the second relates to rules elements. We will come to those in a second. In respect of the purchasing commitments, as I was saying earlier, these are expressed at a general high level of aspiration. If it's relating to directions from government to business, if it's in writing and if it takes the form of treaty-level commitments—there are a number of ifs—of course, there, we will have an expectation that there not be discrimination. There may, however, be businesses or obviously some of these state-led businesses, in the case of the Chinese side, that make decisions that are without government directive.

Senator WONG: Okay. 'Nondiscrimination'—please explain in simple layperson terms what that means we would expect.

Mr Mina : Well, we would expect in that latter case—the case where governments are issuing directives—that there be open opportunity for all other suppliers.

Senator WONG: Which is fundamentally inconsistent with the aspiration in the phase 1 deal—correct?

Ms Adamson : What we're doing at the moment is expressing this at the level of principle and commitment. You'll appreciate, and I'm sure you'll understand, that we will be very forward-leaning as we are able to observe its application and its impact on whether that conversation at the level of principle needs to be refined and corrected.

Senator WONG: Okay. At which level are we having these discussions?

Ms Adamson : Well, we're having them at the highest levels right down to—

Senator WONG: No, I'm asking: are we talking ministerial level—

Ms Adamson : The Prime Minister, ministers and officials at all levels.

Senator WONG: Okay. So this has been raised by the Prime Minister with whom?

Ms Adamson : This has been raised by the Prime Minister with the Chinese side and with the US side. It's very important to both of us.

Senator WONG: So when did the Prime Minister raise this notion or principle of nondiscrimination with President Trump?

Ms Adamson : The Prime Minister raised that with President Trump during his state visit to the US, when the prospect of a deal was emerging, and with Premier Li during the East Asia Summit. So right from the very beginning—

Senator WONG: The former occurred prior to the deal? The latter occurred—

Ms Adamson : Yes, in anticipation.

Senator WONG: Yes, sure.

Ms Adamson : You try to shape, if you like, the outcomes along way.

Senator WONG: Yes, I understand. Post the deal being signed, what representations at ministerial level have been made about the principle of nondiscrimination?

Mr Mina : We can take you through all the details, but, at ministerial level, Minister Birmingham met with Secretary Ross when they were together. That was prior to 11 October 2019, but very recently—

Senator WONG: Sorry. I thought I was really clear. After the signature on the deal, after the deal has been done, what ministerial-level engagement or representation has there been? Do you want to come back to me on that? That's what I want. Senator Birmingham, Senator Payne—

Mr Mina : The most relevant after the deal, at ministerial level, was an interaction between Senator Cormann and Secretary Ross in the Davos meetings in Switzerland in—

Senator WONG: Was that a formal meeting?

Mr Mina : It was a formal meeting in the margins of the Davos ministerial—

Senator WONG: Anyone else? Has Senator Payne met with her counterpart, or Senator Birmingham with his, since the deal was arrived at?

Mr Mina : We have not had occasion for discussions on this particular issue in our record here, but I would say there have been extensive officials-level discussions as well.

Senator WONG: I know, but that wasn't my question. That's okay.

Ms Adamson : No, but including through our embassies, where, frankly, the charge on this is led. But can I also just mention that Mr Mina, when he talked about the purchasing agreement, also spoke about rules elements. I'm sure you would have noticed that. There is quite a bit at stake for Australia—

Senator WONG: There is.

Ms Adamson : at the opportunity end in terms of rules elements.

Senator WONG: We are short of time. I do have an interest in that. I need to go to Senator Ayres for a period. If we have time we will come back on the rules point. It might be useful in the break just to give me a thumbnail sketch if the minister is amenable to that happening. Will you talk to the minister—I think she was distracted, so maybe have a chat to her afterwards.

Mr Mina : And the one-sentence answer on that is in areas such as agriculture. There are big opportunities on that.

Senator WONG: Yes, I understand.

Senator Payne: I'm very happy to do that when the opportunity allows.

Senator AYRES: I want to ask some questions about the Prime Minister's invitation or request that Mr Brian Houston be invited to the state reception at the White House last year. I'll just see if anybody additional needs to come to the table. A brief history of this matter is that, on 20 September, TheWall Street Journal reported that Prime Minister Morrison had requested that Mr Houston be invited as part of the Australian delegation to attend a state reception at the White House. There were questions in question time in the House, but Prime Minister Morrison refused to say whether he'd made such a request. There were questions in the Senate and Senator Cormann refused to answer questions. When Senator Wong asked questions of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet about the invite list for the reception in estimates last year, Mr Martin, the first assistant secretary, read a pre-prepared statement that was drafted with the help of Ms Foster, the deputy secretary of the governance group, which read:

I think any matters relating to the compilation or consideration of the guest list for a state dinner provided by the US would be a matter that might impact on international relations and one might need to consider that.

That was part of Mr Martin's refusal to answer that question. Secretary, was DFAT aware of that pre-prepared answer used by Mr Martin?

Ms Adamson : Senator, I'd need to get back to you. I think we can probably do that quickly in the course of the day as to whether we are aware of that. But the fact is it was an accurate statement, so I have no issue with it.

Senator AYRES: Was DFAT consulted prior to the answer being given?

Ms Adamson : That's what I'd need to check, but it was an accurate statement of the position. We've had some changes, including the fact that Mr Chittick is sitting here, having replaced Mr Green, who gave testimony last time. I checked back to see what he'd said on the Hansard record, and I'm satisfied that that testimony was then accurate, and remains accurate, in terms of DFAT's involvement in this. But the approach that was taken by PM&C at estimates last year was in the particular circumstances surrounding a state visit and the obvious sensitivities, in a way, around guest lists. These things are really for the host to decide, and us getting into the internal machinations of it is something that could indeed affect international relations.

Senator AYRES: So come back to me about the detail—

Senator WONG: Sorry, can I interrupt just on that point. We're not asking about the machinations of the host. We're asking what the Prime Minister asked for.

Ms Adamson : DFAT has no knowledge of that, so, from the point of view of the testimony given by PM&C, that was correct.

Senator AYRES: So you'll come back to me about the detail of whether DFAT was consulted for the preparation of that?

Ms Adamson : To the extent that I can. I will do my best.

Senator AYRES: But what you're saying is that the department broadly agrees with the proposition that Mr Martin put?

Ms Adamson : I heard that testimony at the time, and that was an accurate reflection of the way things were then.

Senator WONG: What does that mean—'the way things were then'?

Ms Adamson : In terms of what information was available and the prerogative that attaches to a host. That is what I mean—no more than that.

Senator WONG: But it's not the prerogative of the host, is it? It's what the Prime Minister wanted. Anyway, I will leave Senator Ayres to it. He's doing a good job.

Senator AYRES: There was also an FOI application on it. It was FOI 2019/313. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet determined to neither confirm nor deny the existence of documents. The assertion was that information communicated in confidence between the United States and Australia may diminish the confidence which the United States would have in Australia as a reliable recipient of its confidential information. It went on to say that 'assuming the existence of such a document, the document would be an exempt document' by virtue of section 33, and it goes on. Was DFAT consulted in relation to the making of that determination?

Mr Larsen : I can confirm that, yes, DFAT was consulted.

Senator AYRES: So does the department agree that that disclosure of that information relating to the Prime Minister's suggestion that Mr Houston be invited would diminish the confidence which the United States would have in Australia as a reliable recipient of its confidential information, making the United States or its agencies less willing to cooperate with Australian agencies in the future?

Mr Larsen : It's obviously not for me to make a judgement about a decision by another agency in an FOI context, but the—

Senator AYRES: But you must have formed a view if you were providing advice.

Mr Larsen : My view would be, in relation to the facts of this or a related matter, that in circumstances where a guest list might've been put forward to host country, removing ourselves from the particular circumstances, and that host country makes a decision as to who to invite on that guest list, if you reveal the originating list—

Senator AYRES: That's not what was being sought. It was the Prime Minister's inclusion of Mr Houston on the Australian delegation.

Mr Larsen : But, if I may say so—removing for a moment the particulars of the United States event and looking at the theoretical circumstances—if Australia provides a possible guest list to a host country as to persons who could be invited to an event, and if the host country invites a lesser or different group of persons, by revealing the original proposal list you are in fact disclosing the decision-making process of the host country as to who they choose to invite or not. That is the potential impact on international relations.

Senator WONG: The only embarrassment here was to the Prime Minister. The cover-up across agencies—the extraordinary amount of interagency and departmental time associated with preventing this information from coming out—was all about the Prime Minister's embarrassment.

Mr Larsen : Respectfully, that is not something that I can comment on. But I can assure you that the argument I have just made in relation to those possible guest lists and the disclosure of the decision-making process of another government is something that would very consistently inform our approach.

Senator WONG: He didn't want to answer the question, so then the whole Public Service had to fall in line with that position. That's what happened.

CHAIR: Well, that is a comment.

Senator WONG: True—it is.

Senator AYRES: I think that would be obvious to anybody listening. But, after almost six months of dodging this question, on Tuesday the Prime Minister admitted in an interview with Mr Fordham on 2GB that he had sought an invitation for Pastor Brian Houston, saying, 'We put forward a number of names—that included Brian.' When and how did the department become aware that the Prime Minister had sought an invitation for Mr Houston to the state reception?

Ms Adamson : Senator, if you look back at Mr Green's testimony last time, you'll see that DFAT didn't have visibility of it. There's obviously been considerable speculation around this, but, in fact, reading the transcript of the interview earlier in the week, that to us was confirmation of the speculation, but we had not had visibility otherwise.

Senator AYRES: Just so I'm clear, at the time that the department was answering questions on this in estimates in October and was or wasn't assisting Mr Martin to prepare his response, was the department aware that the Prime Minister had sought an invitation for Mr Houston to the state reception at the White House?

Ms Adamson : No, I don't think so. As I say, there was a lot of speculation around that in terms of visibility of guest lists, though. We typically make contributions to them—suggested lists of names of businesspeople and others—but DFAT in relation to state-level visits doesn't get the full picture, if you like. I was accompanying on that visit, and I have to say I had no particular knowledge of that issue beyond what was discussed in the public domain.

Senator AYRES: There are two separate points, I suppose. Firstly, on the visit, when the request was made, did the department have visibility of the whole guest list and were you aware that—

Ms Adamson : No, we did not.

Senator AYRES: It seems an odd proposition that the department of foreign affairs wouldn't—

Ms Adamson : It's not an odd proposition.

Senator AYRES: No, I'm saying it seems to me an odd proposition. Secondly, when the matters became public, was the department aware of the true position? That was that the Prime Minister had requested that Mr Houston be invited.

Ms Adamson : Arrangements for state-level visits and hospitality around them or who's in and who's out of any particular meeting or event or formal state occasion are matters that are properly handled by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet—and, on occasions, directly by the Prime Minister's office. DFAT's involvement in them is not central. We respond to requests for names and other things, but this is always—it's a longstanding tradition, actually—handled principally through the Prime Minister's office and then with the Prime Minister's department.

Senator AYRES: I understand. I'm sorry to interrupt. But I remember the estimates questions. That went on for quite some time. At that point, did you seek advice as to whether or not the assertion that was being made was correct?

Ms Adamson : The assertion that was being made? Which assertion?

Senator AYRES: The assertion that Mr Morrison had sought to include Mr Houston on the guest list for the White House reception.

Ms Adamson : No, I did not. We did not. That was a matter for the Prime Minister and his office.

Senator AYRES: So at what point did you become aware that the Prime Minister had sought to put Mr Houston on the guest list?

Ms Adamson : This has been a matter of longstanding speculation, but, if you like, when I read the transcript from the interview earlier this week, that was when I knew.

Senator AYRES: So that was the first point—the Fordham interview?

Ms Adamson : Correct.

Senator AYRES: So after the Prime Minister disclosed it on live radio?

Ms Adamson : It's not a matter that's central to DFAT's responsibilities. There was no need for me to make further inquiries, and the matter is being handled by Prime Minister and Cabinet in their testimony and answers to questions, so no.

Senator AYRES: But officials in the department and, I assume, you had to make judgements about not disclosing this piece of information because of the reasons that you set out before. I don't think I need to take you back to them.

Ms Adamson : No, my point is that these matters are handled directly by the Prime Minister's office and the part of his department that deals with these things, not by DFAT.

Senator AYRES: But the department's decision not to disclose this information and to provide advice to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that it would have implications for Australia's position in terms of its relationship with the United States was something that you had visibility and charge over?

Ms Adamson : Only in the way that Mr Larsen has described, and he may want to refer to that. I think your characterisation of it is not quite accurate, to my mind.

Senator AYRES: So do you think that the Prime Minister's disclosure this week may diminish the confidence which the United States would have in Australia as a reliable recipient of its confidential information?

Ms Adamson : I think that was very much a matter for the Prime Minister, and I'm sure that his US hosts would have understood the context in which that was made.

Senator AYRES: So it was vital to not disclose—

Ms Adamson : That's correct, Senator.

Senator AYRES: right up until the moment the Prime Minister did it on live radio himself?

Ms Adamson : Yes. Then the situation changes.

Senator AYRES: Well, it changed because the Prime Minister decided it was time to share the information. That's not a matter of the national interest. That's a matter of the Prime Minister's interest, isn't it?

Ms Adamson : Well, the two are often—

Senator AYRES: It's one thing to protect the national interest—

Ms Adamson : No, the two are often closely linked, so—

Senator AYRES: Oh—

Senator WONG: Hardly.

Ms Adamson : No, I have no difficulty with this whatsoever—

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister's personal and political embarrassment is linked to the national interest? Seriously?

Ms Adamson : No, the decision by the Prime Minister to say what he said is absolutely his to make. Up until that point, the situation described by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is absolutely accurate.

Senator WONG: He didn't make it in the national interest; he made it for his personal political interest. The point that Senator Ayres is making is that there was a national interest issue used to try to cover up the fact that the request was made and to prevent officers from disclosing it. But somehow there's no national interest impinged upon when the Prime Minister chooses to disclose it because he feels embarrassed by it?

Ms Adamson : I don't see any inconsistency there.

Senator WONG: Oh, really?

Ms Adamson : I don't.

Senator WONG: That's disappointing.

Senator AYRES: It's surprising, really, that that's the position you adopt.

CHAIR: I'm sure President Trump lies awake at night concerned about this issue.

Senator WONG: He spent months avoiding this question. He's had departments prepare statements. He's had public interest immunity claims. He's avoided the question in the House. Senator Cormann's avoided the question in the Senate. It's been avoided in Senate estimates, including here. Then we've had an FOI request which was refused, which involved interdepartmental discussions—all because supposedly this was going to harm the US relationship. Then he decides it's politically better if he gets it out, so he goes on radio to disclose it, and all of a sudden that doesn't harm the US relationship.

CHAIR: We're on the big issues here! But it's up to you how to take up your time.

Senator WONG: I actually think that the honesty of the Prime Minister with the Australian people and being less concerned about spin and more about national interest is a big issue.

Senator KITCHING: Can I turn to the Prime Minister's trip to Hawaii in December. Minister Payne, were you in Australia during the period of that Hawaiian trip? It was mid to late December or sometime in the third week of December.

Senator Payne: In December I recall being in Indonesia for a period, but I'm very happy to check my calendar and confirm that with you.

Senator KITCHING: But you weren't on leave?

Senator Payne: No.

Senator KITCHING: What were your duties during the period of Prime Minister Morrison's absence from Australia?

Senator Payne: I did also go, of course, to New Zealand for the matters concerning the devastating eruption of the White Island volcano. So my duties were my normal duties as Australia's foreign minister and Minister for Women.

Senator KITCHING: Including during the Prime Minister's absence?

Senator Payne: Yes, as they would normally be.

Senator KITCHING: Did you have any additional duties or responsibilities?

Senator Payne: Do you mean: was I sworn as another minister?

Senator KITCHING: Were there any responsibilities or duties you had consequent to the Prime Minister being on leave?

Senator Payne: No. I think I may actually have been acting in another ministerial role at the time as well. I may have had another acting ministerial role, but no—and I would not expect it to have been the case that the Prime Minister's travel would have impacted my role in any way.

Senator KITCHING: So you might have had another cabinet minister's—

Senator Payne: I may have. I would have to check directly. I'm trying to be helpful, but my diary just doesn't tell me.

Senator KITCHING: Yes. Do you recall what those additional ministerial duties were or for whom you might have been performing them?

Senator Payne: No, I just said I am trying to check. I'm not actually positive that I did have an acting role at the time, but, it being the December-January period and given the number of ministers moving around, as you might imagine, we take acting roles for each other to facilitate that process, as you'd expect.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, I understand all of that. The Prime Minister sent a letter—which appears to be a standard response to correspondence his office had received that was criticising his absence from Australia—that says, 'Any Commonwealth responsibilities were being managed by the Acting Prime Minister, Mr McCormack; the Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, David Littleproud; and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne.' Are you aware of that letter?

Senator Payne: Not specifically.

Senator KITCHING: Was your office consulted?

Senator Payne: I'll take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. That's fine. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: Alright. Right on the knocker, Senator Van.

Senator VAN: I have some questions going to our support for the State of Israel. What is the government's position on the proposed International Criminal Court—the ICC—investigation in the Palestinian territories?

Mr Larsen : As you're possibly aware, the International Criminal Court invited interested persons, including states, to submit requests for approval to make observations to the court. Australia did that a week or so ago and, if my dates are correct, I think the date for filing a submission, or filing observations to the court, is 16 March.

Senator VAN: Will we be making a submission?

Mr Larsen : Yes. We requested the court's agreement to do so, and the court granted that agreement. That document is currently in preparation. Of course, it's subject to approval across government and there will be a whole-of-government process involving ministers for that purpose.

Senator VAN: What is Australia's position on the UNHCR's publication of the list of companies operating on the West Bank, which presumably will have the effect of supporting the BDS—the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions—movement?

Mr Larsen : I probably should look to my colleague on that policy issue.

Senator VAN: Of course. The more the merrier.

Dr Macdonald : Australia was opposed to the publication of that database.

Senator VAN: As we should be. Have we made any representations against the publication of that list? What representations were made?

Dr Macdonald : Yes. Can I check on that and get back to you?

Senator VAN: Of course, no problem at all. Moving on a little bit from that. Australia has a seat on the Human Rights Council. Is it possible describe the anti-Israel nature of item 7? What is Australia's position on item 7?

Dr Lee : I will just add to the comments of my colleague Angela Macdonald. In relation to the Human Rights Council and the treatment of the issue of the Palestinian territories and Israel, Australia has an in principle objection to item 7 in that Israel is the only country that has a separate standing agenda item in relation to it. Also, the number of resolutions in relation to one country—Israel—we see as being unbalanced and biased, and so we do have an objection to it. It will come up again in the current Human Rights Council session, which is running through to 20 March, and we will get to item 7 in coming weeks.

CHAIR: North Korea is not a separate item?

Dr Lee : It's not a separate item on the agenda. That's correct.

Senator VAN: Interesting. The year 2020 is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and the end of the Holocaust. Can you describe what Australia's position is on anti-Semitism?

Dr Lee : I will ask my colleague. Just one point to note is that Australia did join and become a full member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance recently, in June 2019. That particular institution is focused on Holocaust remembrance, understanding and commemoration—a slightly separate issue from anti-Semitism, which I will defer to my colleague on.

CHAIR: What has the Australian government or the department done in practical terms after the adoption of this definition of anti-Semitism by the IHRA, which I welcome?

Dr Lee : I think you asked the question previously around the working definition of anti-Semitism. At the moment, that's an issue that is in the responsibility of the Attorney-General's Department, so that issue will be considered and dealt with by them. In terms of how Australia is engaging with the IHRA, there is a group of experts we have appointed and are supporting through that process. Previously, we have also looked at our activities to support Holocaust remembrance and education, and will continue to look at we support that in Australia under the IHRA.

CHAIR: The chief editor of our national broadcaster at estimates earlier this week was not aware of the IHRA let alone its definition. For the purposes of assisting the national broadcaster in relation to what it posts on its website and the provision and distribution of the stories, I'm just sort of wondering what has happened. Could the department potentially, given that Australia has signed up to this, advise certain key stakeholders in the Australian community, such as the national broadcaster, that, for what it's worth, this is a government policy that seems to have the support of other democratic nations around the world.

Dr Lee : We certainly will be speaking to other Australian government agencies around the IHRA and what it means for Australia. On the issue of the working definition, we would defer that to the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator VAN: Dr Macdonald, do you have anything to add on what Australia's position is on anti- Semitism?

Dr Macdonald : I have nothing to add.

Senator VAN: I thought you did.

Senator Payne: You made a very good point; I wasn't aware of that statement from the ABC. I suspect I was in another estimates committee at the time but we will follow that up.

CHAIR: Can I ask a few questions in relation to the finding of the China tribunal? I understand the department has now been provided with a copy of its 560-page tome but, more importantly, the 160 pages where Sir Geoffrey Nice and the tribunal have assessed. It's called the Independent Tribunal into Forced Organ Harvesting from Prisoners of Conscience in China. I've been asking questions about this now for some time at estimates. My question, first of all, is have we had somebody in the department assess this report?

Ms Adamson : Let me just say first off, I recognise your long-standing interest in this issue. I personally received the report two days ago. It is, as you said, 580-odd pages

CHAIR: It is substantial.

Ms Adamson : Yes, and it warrants a substantial consideration. In those couple of days, we've not been able to give that but, as we said last time, anticipating that the final report would come, we will of course do that.

CHAIR: How quickly do you think you can provide a full assessment of this tribunal finding? Will you engage with the tribunal in the event the department has any questions about its findings?

Ms Adamson : I will ask Ms Cawte, who is acting head of the North Asia division, to respond to you substantively. I would say the content of the report is deeply disturbing. As a government, we could not possibly condone any practice remotely close to—

CHAIR: It gets barbaric.

Ms Adamson : or resembling organ harvesting. By their very nature, the allegations, the content, whatever, is really going on is terribly difficult to verify and verify independently, and we won't have a way of doing that, nor am I suggesting that we do need to do that but we do need to have a thoughtful consideration of the report. Let me be very up front: we could not condone any organ harvesting practices.

CHAIR: China at first denied it was so involved and then I think—if I have got my timeline right—finally in 2005, they admitted that they did harvest the organs of executed prisoners and, since then, more and more stories have come out. One would assume that, unless literally hundreds of people have perjured themselves or deliberately provided misleading information—and given the Chinese regime's own acknowledgement that they engage in this barbaric practice—there is no real reason to doubt the findings, are there?

Ms Adamson : We have, as you would expect, over many years now, sought to engage the Chinese government in discussions on this matter. There has been some movement, though, over what they've had to say about this. I might give Ms Cawte an opportunity, given that she is probably better informed than I am. I have a sense of the long-term view on it but let me hand over to Ms Cawte.

Ms Cawte : We have been following this issue for some time. We do note that, in the past, China has admitted to the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners. In 2015, they introduced legislative processes to address that harvesting. You asked about Sir Geoffrey Nice. We would be happy to speak to him.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. Given what this report indicates, will the department be seeking to liaise with universities and hospitals and other medical institutions around Australia to ensure that they don't unwittingly assist in these barbaric practices? I've given a speech in the Senate about Westmead Hospital's memorandum of understanding with a hospital in Shandong and, much to my horror, appendix 1B maps detention centres and hospitals—this is on page 351 of the report. Shandong province lists detention centres and hospitals. Here we were as an Australian medical facility, Westmead, in collaboration with a province and their medical authorities, who clearly were engaged in this barbaric practice that offends every concept of human rights.

Ms Cawte : I understand the summary report of the tribunal was discussed at estimates in October. Since then, we have conveyed the summary report to Universities Australia. Now we're looking at the judgement, the final judgement, the complete report, which is lengthy. We will go through it very, very thoroughly and we can convey that again to relevant Australian bodies.

CHAIR: Look, if you could, that, I think, would be a great service to all those organisations that might have otherwise unwittingly engaged in supporting this very barbaric practice. Thank you for that. I'll leave that there. If I may, in the absence of Senator Canavan, return to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Regrettably I don't have my questions with me, but I can provide you with the questions on notice. Referring to question on notice 932, can you please specify which UN agencies and/or specific programs were allocated the $1 million which was referred to in the answer? If that's going to take some time, I'll just quickly read out the questions and then potentially put them on notice again. Also referring to the same question, can you please list the non-government organisations that shared the US$3.1 million allocated to them. Referring again to question 932, given the Australian government's rejection of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, why didn't the department seek assurances from the UN humanitarian fund for the Palestinian territories that Australian funds were not being directed to NGOs that are known supporters of the BDS movement. And if you don't have—

Ms Adamson : We've got it. Apologies. 932 is cross-referenced in a number of places. We've now got the primary document. So your question goes in particular to the $1 million?

CHAIR: Yes, and it followed up on 974 I think as well. But anyway, yes.

Ms Adamson : Sorry, but would you mind repeating the actual questions?

CHAIR: Can you please specify which UN agencies and/or specific programs were allocated the US$1 million to which you refer? And can you please list the non-government organisations that shared in the US$3.1 million allocated to them?

Dr Macdonald : I can get that for you.

CHAIR: On notice? Do that on notice, and then whether any of the organisations that were funded were in fact supporters of the ugly BDS movement.

Ms Adamson : We'll take that on notice.

CHAIR: And what Australia taxpayer money is doing funding organisations that support the BDS movement, which is against the government policy. Can I turn to UNRWA. Has Dr King moved on?

Dr Macdonald : Yes, he has.

Senator Payne: To greater things!

CHAIR: I am sure. And we wish him well. He assisted during the October estimates and advised that Australia was waiting for the outcome of the UN's investigation into the alleged misconduct of former UNRWA Director-General Pierre Krahenbuhl and his team. Have we received this report?

Dr Macdonald : Yes. The UN's office of internal oversight services investigation findings—yes, we have.

CHAIR: You've got that report. Is it possible to table it or is it on your website? Where is it?

Dr Macdonald : It's not our report. It's a UN report. I can find you a copy, I think. I'll just have to confirm that.

CHAIR: Thank you. Given Australia is a significant funder of UNRWA, what action has been taken in response to that report?

Dr Macdonald : As Dr King said at the last estimates, we have had numerous conversations with UNRWA since those allegations were first made and assured ourselves that the governance, management and accountability mechanisms are being improved. The acting commissioner-general has implemented some of those reforms already. I can go to some of those.

CHAIR: Acting UNRWA director-general Christian Saunders said in a speech in January that, in the wake of that investigation, 'we have put the place in order'. So why weren't we aware that it wasn't in order beforehand, given all the accountability measures that we are continually told are in place, especially with UNRWA, given its antecedents? Why didn't we know about it, and what has been put in place to confirm to us and satisfy us that the place is now 'in order'?

Dr Macdonald : Acting Commissioner-General Saunders talked about reforms including introducing an ombudsman function, strengthening the department of internal oversight services, shifting to needs based budgeting rather than what had been the income based approach, and reviewing the organisational structures as well as the recruitment systems. The allegations, as you might be aware, went to management deficiencies and misconduct rather than fraud or diversion of funds.

CHAIR: Are we satisfied that Australian contributions are not being misused?

Dr Macdonald : Yes.

CHAIR: As a member of the UNRWA advisory committee, has a request been made to expedite the changes or 'put the place in order', or are you now satisfied that the place is in order?

Dr Macdonald : We continue to work with UNRWA through that position that you mentioned and, through our embassy and office in Ramallah, continue to make those representations, most recently in February of this year, to the UNRWA commissioner-general.

CHAIR: If we're so satisfied, can you tell me whether Australia has made representations to the Palestinians or to UNRWA over the content of textbooks. And, just for the record, allow me to remind you: the Australian government has previously expressed concerns about the contents of school textbooks available in UNRWA schools. Examples of incitement, praise of terrorism and celebration of jihad have been found in school textbooks used in UNRWA schools, and that was reported in the British press. In response, the British government vowed to urgently press the Palestinian education minister to take swift action. Have we done anything similar?

Dr Macdonald : In relation to UNRWA, yes indeed, and UNRWA itself undertakes reviews of any newly issued textbooks and develops the complementary materials to counter any bias that may exist in them and provides those materials—

CHAIR: But these were textbooks used in UNRWA schools. They must have approved it; they must have allowed this incitement and support of jihad. We say we're relying on UNRWA to vet the textbooks, but they got in under UNRWA.

Dr Macdonald : The textbooks themselves are provided by the Palestinian authority, as is the usual case in terms of the education services provided.

CHAIR: Yes, but UNRWA schools allowed the Palestinian textbooks to be used in their schools. So how can we be confident that UNRWA has been vetting these textbooks? Clearly not, because they found their way into UNRWA schools.

Dr Macdonald : That's right, the textbooks continue to do so, but in terms of the development of the complementary material which complements those textbooks in the education curriculum and in terms of the training of its staff, in terms of neutrality training, those are representations that we continue to make and the assurances we continue to get from UNRWA—

CHAIR: We continue to fund this organisation, which willingly uses these Palestinian textbooks, which provide examples of incitement, praise for terrorism, celebration of jihad. I'm sorry, but that answer does not satisfy me and I would have thought would not satisfy the vast bulk of Australians that our taxpayer money is continuing to support UNRWA, which must turn a blind eye to allowing these textbooks into their schools.

Dr Macdonald : Those are the textbooks that the Palestinian authority does provide, but in terms of the education—

CHAIR: I know they provide them. They are horrific books. They should not be provided. They should not be allowed in UNRWA schools. What are we doing as funders of UNRWA to ensure that these textbooks do not find their way into schools and facilities that we, as Australian taxpayers, help fund?

Telling me they are Palestinian books just confirms to me the ugliness of elements of the Palestinian regime, who don't believe in a two-state solution, who believe in the extinction of the state of Israel.

Dr Macdonald : The textbooks are provided, as you say, but it's the complementary material and the way that they're taught and the education and training of the teachers who are then using those books in the schools that UNRWA undertakes to emphasise the neutrality.

CHAIR: Of course.

Senator FAWCETT: Has DFAT challenged UNRWA about this and put the funding on the line? In other words, if they don't stop the books that have this abhorrent content going into schools, then funding will be restricted?

Dr Macdonald : Not to that extent, no.

CHAIR: Why not? This is a fundamental issue, is it not?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And it goes against our own policy, does it not?


Ms Adamson : The part of this that you're concerned about concerns us deeply and that's what we seek to act on. I can well understand—

CHAIR: But we still fund them!

Ms Adamson : Yes, but children in those schools need text books on a wide—

CHAIR: On jihad!

Ms Adamson : But on a wide range of subject matter. This is a sub-element of it. I'm not trying to make the case that it doesn't matter. It matters deeply. So, what we have been doing is working with them to ensure that the broader, if you like—not every child reads every word of every text book in any society—but the broader teaching ethos, environment, other points of view that are put—I see exactly where you're coming from and what we need to be able to do is to deal with that element of it without removing completely your textbooks from schools, including where they cover other matters. So, it's a question—

CHAIR: Whilst the Palestinian Authority has still got money for 'pay to slay', what on earth are we doing giving money to assist in the provision of textbooks that in fact support jihad, that support 'pay to slay' that the Palestinian Authority pays out to its people that engage in a suicide bombing and other notorious activities?

Ms Adamson : We try to ensure our assistance is as targeted as possible to people who do have a genuine need. I don't dispute at all what you say and we will continue to take what the committee tells us during these hearings and to use that in our representations of further evidence of the deep feeling in Australia about this issue.

CHAIR: But it shouldn't need me to be raising it. Senator Fawcett?

Senator FAWCETT: Ms Adamson, can I take your evidence to indicate that, through our representations, there has been training for staff around context, and additional material provided, that provide an alternative point of view?

Dr Macdonald : I couldn't say that it's solely due to Australia's intervention, but what you talk about there is correct.

Ms Adamson : We believe we have contributed to that.

Senator FAWCETT: So, international pressure has contributed to the expenditure of funds, additional training and additional material. Why spend additional money to counter something that is bad? Why not just spend the money on actually replacing the text book with something that doesn't have those offensive parts of glorified jihad and the terror? Surely if we can apply pressure to bring in extra materials and resources, we can apply pressure to actually remediate the bad resources that are there? And if there's a refusal to do that, then we should withdraw the funding?

Ms Adamson : As we always do, we take away from these hearings the views of the committee and we seek to do what we can, looking afresh at the issues that continue to concern you. There are, of course, some limits, but we will look at this with renewed purpose, in light of what you have said to us today.

CHAIR: Secretary, have you heard or seen what UNRWA has said about this—namely, UNRWA cannot alter host government curriculum as this is a matter of national sovereignty, but it does have robust systems in place to ensure education delivered in its schools reflects UN values. Well, one imagines and hopes that jihad is not representative of UN values. UNRRA provides explanations which clearly are not reflective of UN values—or at least one hopes they aren't. So what are we doing and what can we do? Often, money speaks very loudly. If we were to say, 'No more funding to UNRRA until those textbooks are removed from the school or those elements of those textbooks are excised,' wouldn't that have some impact?

Ms Adamson : It would also have a range of other impacts, as I'm sure you're aware.

CHAIR: Such as less money for 'pay to slay'? That wouldn't be a bad thing, would it?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Or change the funding. As you said, Ms Adamson, there's a wide range of things that are taught in schools. So instead of focusing our funding on one thing you could focus it on mathematics books or science books or something like that.

Ms Adamson : A very practical suggestion, if I may say so.

CHAIR: We will suspend now and resume after the break with questions from Centre Alliance.

Proceedings suspended from 12:30 to 13:35

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Fierravanti-Wells ): I understand that Mr Todd you have some corrections and some further information in relation to the Houston questions.

Mr Chittick : Before lunch, Senator Ayres asked the secretary some questions about whether DFAT was consulted or given advance knowledge of Mr Martin's statement from PM&C. I can confirm that DFAT was not consulted on that statement and was not given advance notice.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Chittick. I think, Mr Todd, you have some additional information.

Mr Todd : Thank you. I would like to correct some figures I provided earlier to the committee on unaccompanied minors remaining in Hubei province. I can confirm that we understand there are 355 individuals in Hubei that have indicated an interest in further information or advice on a possible return to Australia. Of these, 22 are unaccompanied minors. Of the 22 unaccompanied minors, the correct age and citizenship breakdown is as follows. Twenty are Australian citizens, two are permanent residents. The age breakdown—and this is a correction to my earlier testimony—is that eight are two years or older and the youngest is eight months old. The remaining 14 are aged between three and 16 years. My apologies for providing incorrect advice.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Todd. Ms Adamson?

Ms Adamson : Nothing.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: I have some questions about an article published today in the ABC news about the diplomatic post service and a report. I understand that the department contracts DHL to provide diplomatic mail services. It has referred a matter involving three of its employees and alleged financial conduct to the AFP. When and how did DFAT become aware of this matter?

Mr Nixon : The department became aware of this matter by DHL contacting on 20 January this year the manager of the diplomatic mail room.

Senator WONG: DHL contacted?

Mr Nixon : The manager of the diplomatic mail room.

Senator WONG: That's not you? That's someone who works for you, presumably?

Mr Nixon : That's correct.

Senator WONG: What was advised at that point?

Mr Nixon : There was a phone call made to the manager of the diplomatic mail room which advised that DHL had conducted an internal review. Through that internal review, they had identified instances of financial irregularity.

Senator WONG: Instances of?

Mr Nixon : Financial irregularity.

Senator WONG: Financial irregularity.

Mr Nixon : Correct.

Senator WONG: Did they indicate that there would be an investigation? What did they indicate the consequences would be?

Mr Nixon : They indicated that they were undertaking a formal internal review. That was undertaken by their head of security.

Senator WONG: Of DHL?

Mr Nixon : Of DHL. They then, in effect, provided advice that they had substantiated the allegations and were therefore informing us of that.

Senator WONG: Who was advised? As a consequence of that advice, did the manager of the diplomatic mail room? Is it actually a room?

Mr Nixon : Yes, there is.

Senator WONG: Not like a virtual room?

Mr Nixon : No. It's a real room.

Senator Payne: They are physical bags. They've got to go somewhere.

ACTING CHAIR: There's a spot for the carrier pigeon.

Senator WONG: Who do they report to? I can keep asking questions. I just want to know what we did. What did we know? What did we do? Did we take any action?

Mr Nixon : The advice, as I said, was provided to the manager of the diplomatic mail room. It was the evening of 20 January. Immediately the following morning he brought that to my attention. I then ensured that internally there was a formal notification of suspected fraud. That was filed with our aid contracting and fraud division. There was immediate internal notice. I advised deputy secretary Penny Williams via a telephone call of the advice I had been given. Investigations internally commenced immediately.

Senator WONG: You commenced investigations internally?

Mr Nixon : When I say 'commenced investigations', we met with DHL on 22 January.

Senator WONG: Who is 'we'?

Mr Nixon : I will refer to my notes. On 22 January, the meeting involved me; Tony Ambrosino, the manager of the mail room; Lynette O'Keeffe, a DFAT officer from the fraud area; Gary Edstein, chief executive officer Oceania for DHL; Zane Drage, the security manager for DHL; and Graeme Moore, the HR manager for DHL.

Senator WONG: The DHL internal investigation has been finalised?

Mr Nixon : The DHL investigation has been finalised to the extent that they've substantiated the claims.

Senator WONG: It's been referred to the AFP?

Mr Nixon : It has been referred by DHL to the AFP.

Senator WONG: Is there any indication—obviously the security of the diplomatic mail service is paramount. Can you tell me what risks, if any, have been discovered as a consequence of this investigation?

Mr Nixon : I will be very clear here. The DHL contract provides for a service relating to unclassified material. So there is no risk to the security of classified material.

Senator WONG: I didn't—

Ms Adamson : The term 'diplomatic mail', like a number of the things that we discuss with you in this committee, regrettably requires a bit of further elaboration. The way it sounds to people outside isn't necessarily the way it is internally.

Senator WONG: Is that regrettably?

Ms Adamson : In the sense that it makes it sound a bit arcane at times.

Senator WONG: I just like it when people answer a question rather than give me a different answer. I think your answer is there was no classified mail but it is still what is described as the diplomatic mail service. I'm happy to use a nomenclature that assists.

Senator Payne: This is a financial fraud.

Senator WONG: Well, fine. Then you can give me an answer that says there has been no compromise.

Senator Payne: I don't think that had been stated to this point. It is a financial fraud.

Senator WONG: Well, that's on the public record. It says financial misconduct.

Senator Payne: Various things on this matter have been on the public record today, some of which have been quite misleading in the media.

Senator WONG: Sure. What phrase would you like me to use, Ms Adamson?

Senator Payne: It's alleged fraud.

Senator WONG: No. I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the service.

Ms Adamson : Diplomatic mail—

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Ms Adamson : in our parlance, if you like, is classified information carried by hand by our own staff. We do not permit, if you like, DHL to carry that.

Senator WONG: What is the service the contractor provides?

Mr Nixon : The service the contractor provides is essentially the distribution of unclassified material between Canberra and our posts.

Senator WONG: What would you like me to call it?

Ms Adamson : We call it air freight.

Senator WONG: Air freight. What does that typically involve?

Mr Nixon : That typically involves what would be unclassified material, which could be contained in an envelope that's physically dispatched from Canberra to a post. It could involve on a number of instances the actual transport and delivery of materials used in the construction of a project overseas.

Ms Adamson : Hard copies of the annual report, for example. Rarely these days do unclassified letters go by bag because they are transmitted electronically. Sometimes, though, we will have the original following by bag.

Senator WONG: So this does include what is referred to as the bag?

Ms Adamson : An air freight bag unclassified as distinct from the diplomatic bag carried by our couriers.

Senator WONG: Does DHL have any involvement in what you described as diplomatic mail?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: Do you have a third-party contractor engaged with that, or does it remain within DFAT?

Mr Nixon : It is an activity that is fulfilled by DFAT staff.

Senator WONG: Has there been any impact of the alleged financial misconduct of these DHL employees on the—I can't remember what phrase we agreed to. I didn't write it down?

Senator Payne: Air freight.

Senator WONG: Well, it's not just any air freight, though. It's air freight within the Australian government and within the foreign affairs portfolio. Yes?

Mr Nixon : Correct.

Senator WONG: Foreign affairs mail non-classified. Has there been any impact that we're aware of?

Mr Nixon : That same service would also distribute, again, unclassified items on behalf of other government agencies.

Senator WONG: So it's not just DFAT?

Mr Nixon : Correct.

Senator WONG: It's other government agencies sending things to each other overseas?

Mr Nixon : Correct.

Senator WONG: And in Australia?

Mr Nixon : Unclassified material in Australia.

Senator WONG: How many departments use DHL for this service?

Mr Nixon : If they are using it through our contract and through our mail room, my understanding is that it would be in the order of about 16 government departments or agencies.

Senator WONG: Sixteen government departments use DHL?

Senator Payne: We are making an estimate. Obviously that's only from what's within our knowledge.

Senator WONG: And they've all been advised?

Mr Nixon : No. They weren't advised.

Senator WONG: Why not?

Mr Nixon : Because this is purely a matter around alleged financial mismanagement. It didn't affect the service. It didn't affect the security of any items.

Ms Adamson : There has been no compromise of that.

Senator WONG: How do you know that? You've made an assertion. I would like to understand the basis on which that's made. Is that something you've assured yourself with DHL? Is that something there's been an independent investigation about?

Mr Nixon : It goes back to the purpose and terms of the contract with DHL, which is for the transportation of unclassified material.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Mr Nixon : Classified material is handled in a different manner.

Senator WONG: That wasn't what you said, though. I'm not talking about classified or unclassified. I'm just trying to understand if there has been any compromise, as far as you are aware, to any of the services DHL provides to this portfolio and to 15 or 16 portfolios or agencies, I should say, in the context of this misconduct.

Mr Nixon : There has been no disruption to the service. The service has continued.

Ms Adamson : And no compromise in the sense in which you are asking.

Senator WONG: Yes. I want to understand the basis of that. Is that something DHL, in the course of their investigations, assured you of?

Ms Adamson : It might be helpful if Mr Nixon goes to what the actual problem was rather than what it wasn't.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Mr Nixon : The alleged financial mismanagement relates to suggestions that DHL employees had defrauded DHL of moneys.

Senator WONG: Did you ask DHL just to confirm that these events had not in any way compromised the service provider, that there wasn't any suggestion that there had been other misconduct in relation to goods or correspondence that they were carrying?

Mr Nixon : I am satisfied that the internal report that DHL give us is an assurance that there has been no compromise of goods and no compromise of the mail.

Senator WONG: So nobody was looking in or selling anything that they were supposed to be carrying?

Mr Nixon : No.

Senator WONG: Thank you very much on that.

ACTING CHAIR: Is this an appropriate time for us to go to Senator Patrick?

Senator WONG: I'm changing topics.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you, Chair. I have some questions on Dr Yang and Mr Assange. I understand that this is a sensitive issue and I don't want to in any way cause harm to Dr Yang. I will be sensitive to your responses. Can you give me the current status of Dr Yang's case in the Chinese system?

Mr Todd : Dr Yang still remains in detention in China in an earlier phase of investigation. There is a complex process that Chinese investigations go through. He is currently under an investigative stage; that is how I would put it.

Senator PATRICK: During the time he has been detained, I note, in response to Senator Wong last estimates, you said that you had secured monthly consular access. When was the last time there was a visit to Dr Yang? Have you been visiting Dr Yang regularly since the last estimates?

Mr Todd : Certainly visits were undertaken on 25 September, 29 October, 29 November and 30 December 2019. The visit scheduled for 3 February was cancelled by Chinese authorities due to COVID-19 control measures in place at the prison. These same measures apply across all prisons in China. We are seeking with Chinese authorities, through our embassy in Beijing, alternative ways of making contact with Dr Yang either through a telephone call or through written correspondence.

Senator PATRICK: Is there any risk in respect of COVID-19 for Dr Yang?

Mr Todd : Not that we're aware of at this stage. It's an issue that we're monitoring very closely with all Australian citizens detained across the world, particularly in countries where there are current outbreaks of COVID-19. It is an issue that we monitor very closely.

Senator PATRICK: Has Dr Yang had access to legal advice and representation? I say that in the context of a standard we might expect here in Australia?

Mr Todd : No. He has not. That is one issue that the minister and the department and our ambassador in Beijing regularly raise with Chinese officials at all levels—our concerns that he has not had access to legal representation. The Prime Minister also raised the same issue with Premier Lee.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you. How are his health and physical circumstances at this point in time?

Mr Todd : Based on our most recent visit to Dr Yang, his physical conditions in the prison have improved. He reported that his own health and wellbeing was somewhat better than on previous visits. He's no longer subjected to quite the intrusive treatment that he had had previously.

Senator PATRICK: That's good. You mentioned representations made to the Chinese government. You said the Prime Minister has made representation. The foreign minister?

Mr Todd : The Prime Minister, the foreign minister, the secretary, the head of our North Asia division, our ambassador in Beijing and senior officials, including myself, at appropriate opportunities with our counterparts continue to raise the government's very clear and publicly expressed concerns about the treatment that Dr Yang has faced.

Senator PATRICK: What are your expectations in relation to his case in terms of where the investigation is going and potential outcomes?

Mr Todd : We continue to press to the Chinese that he be treated fairly and transparently; as I mentioned, that he gets immediate access to his lawyers; and that we have a clearer understanding of the reasons for his detention and explanation of the charges against him. The Chinese advise us that they are following the Chinese legal process. We remind them regularly of our expectations of how Dr Yang should be treated in that process.

Senator PATRICK: Is there any end to the investigation in sight?

Mr Todd : There is a time frame broadly under Chinese law that will see the current phase reach a conclusion in the very near future. The legal process enters another part of their process.

Senator PATRICK: When you say 'very shortly', are we talking, days, weeks or months?

Mr Todd : Last year, in August, Dr Yang's case moved to what is known as the formal investigation phase. Under Chinese law, that can last up to seven months, which takes us to March. Following the end point there, if Dr Yang's case is approved for prosecution by the Chinese officials, a subsequent indictment period can legally last up to a further six and a half months, which would take us to September this year.

Senator PATRICK: If we are more optimistic, what happens at the end of the investigation period? I presume that one pathway is simply that he is released.

Mr Todd : If after the investigation phase there is no indictment to proceed to formal charges, we would expect that he would be released immediately.

Senator PATRICK: And, of course, I anticipate you would give him full support. He will probably need a bit.

Mr Todd : We continue to provide him and his family in China and Australia with all of that support.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much for that. I will switch now to Mr Assange. You are still the right person, Mr Todd?

Mr Todd : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: When did consular officials last visit Mr Assange at Belmarsh prison?

Senator Payne: Just to be clear, a number of questions have been answered in relation to this earlier in the day. We will go to your specific questions. You may also want to—

Senator PATRICK: If it has been answered—

Senator Payne: You may also wish to examine the Hansard.

Senator PATRICK: If it has been answered, just say so.

Mr Todd : On 1 November 2019.

Senator PATRICK: There were some FOIs carried out under the authority of Mr Assange by his lawyer Kellie Tranter that looked at consular reports. In those reports, the general thrust was that the government was confident that Mr Assange was being treated like any other prisoner, even when his co-conspirators were asserting otherwise. What was the basis for your confidence that he was being treated the same way as other prisoners?

Mr Todd : To the extent we can, because he has withdrawn consent for us to consult about his own personal circumstances, health and welfare in the prison, as I mentioned previously. That was withdrawn on 13 June last year. We have raised on a number of occasions with the UK government and prison officials—and the minister herself has raised it with her UK counterpart—our expectations of how he would be treated. We have received those assurances as recently as 5 February. Our high commissioner in the UK has received assurances that Mr Assange is held in appropriate and humane conditions with access to a full prison regime of medical support and very sufficient access to legal advice.

Senator PATRICK: In the report, can you answer why the consular officials, in relation to the preliminary hearing for his extradition case on 11 April, failed to document the judge's comments that, and I quote:

You are a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own self-interest. I convict you of bail violation.

They are quite strong words. They weren't included in your report.

Mr Todd : Were or weren't?

Senator PATRICK: Were not.

Senator Payne: We wouldn't comment on judicial statements.

Senator PATRICK: I'm not suggesting you would comment on it. But the fact that the judge said that might have been properly put into the report.

Senator Payne: I certainly don't have the report with me. I imagine there is a multitude of things, particularly on a matter such as this, that could not or could be in a report. But I note your view.

CHAIR: It's a pretty pertinent observation by a judicial officer, having heard the evidence.

Senator Payne: I note your view, Senator.

Senator PATRICK: I wasn't commenting on the judicial comment, just the absence of it from a report.

CHAIR: I agree; it should have been in there.

Senator Payne: Thank you, Senators. It is all enormously helpful.

Senator PATRICK: Perhaps, more importantly, then, at the hearing he stated that he was incapable of stating his name and date of birth. That didn't appear to be in the consular report either. I would have thought that's a highly relevant piece of information to be reported.

Mr Todd : Our consular officials provide comprehensive reports of what they believe would be pertinent to our interests in the management of the consular case. Not everything that is said or undertaken in any particular event or court appearance would necessarily be reported. We monitor, and have monitored, Mr Assange's case for many years. In my own case, it has been seven years that I have been familiar with his case. There were four years in London as deputy high commissioner and nearly three years in this position. We have a wide range of information available to us about, in this case, Mr Assange and the conditions that he is in. We don't always put together in one particular report explanations and comments made by a lot of people.

Senator PATRICK: I would have thought the comments or observations made by him directly would be there. For example, my understanding is that on 1 November he told consular officers he was suffering from sensory deprivation and believed he would die in prison. Basically, he thought his own psychological state was so bad that his mind was shutting down. That didn't appear in the reports. These are fundamental attributes of his state, which I would have thought would be in such reports.

Mr Todd : I simply refer to my previous comments about what our senior consular officers decide to include in reports. We have other equally valuable sources of information.

Senator PATRICK: Minister, my understanding is that you were written to by more than 100 doctors raising concerns in relation to Mr Assange's physical and mental health, calling on his passage back to Australia. Have you responded to those doctors?

Senator Payne: I am not sure if I have specifically responded. Obviously, I have raised the concerns in the consular process that Mr Todd has referred to, including through the high commission and including in my discussions with Foreign Secretary Raab. I note your own commentary on whether that would have been raised in my meeting with Foreign Secretary Raab. You might like to amend that tweet, Senator.

Senator PATRICK: In respect of consular assistance versus diplomatic assistance, which was offered in the case of Peter Greste, James Richardson and others, what diplomatic representation has been made in both the UK and the United States in relation to Mr Assange in the last six months?

Mr Todd : I mentioned it previously in answering other questions. The foreign minister herself raised the issue with her UK counterpart during this recent visit in February to Australia. Our high commissioner in the UK, Mr Brandis, as recently as 5 February raised it with the UK government, the governor of Her Majesty's prison Belmarsh, senior officials and the Secretary of State for Justice our ongoing interest in the case and our requirements that his needs and conditions be addressed and adhered to. I note that, prior to him withdrawing consent, every time he raised a matter of health care or concern with us, we raised it immediately with Belmarsh and did that on several occasions. We offered on 28 November, subject to his wishes to support him, to seek an independent health assessment.

Senator PATRICK: The chair is going to be restrictive of my time. They are consular matters. I'm talking about diplomatic representations, such as seeking assurances in relation to due process.

Senator Payne: Which we have done.

Senator PATRICK: So both the United States and the British government?

Senator Payne: At this point, it's a matter before the UK government in terms of the case that is underway.

Senator PATRICK: Noting that one of the outcomes of this could in fact be an extradition to the United States, have you engaged with any discussion with the United States in respect of due process and, indeed, the severity of any penalties?

Senator Payne: I don't want to pre-empt the considerations of the court or comment on the proceedings. Appropriate representations will be made, and are being made, dependent upon that outcome.

CHAIR: The intention is for the Labor Party to have questions until three o'clock and then the Greens from 3 to 3.30 pm. I think we then go to an afternoon tea break, after which the government senators might ask a few more questions.

Senator WONG: I want to ask about international climate change negotiations, including some accounting treatments. I turn to our role at COP25 Madrid and our preparations for COP26 in Glasgow. I am sorry that I wasn't able to be here when Senator Faruqi was asking her questions. I want to go to the AAUs. I want you to confirm. I think 411 million tonnes of credits under the Kyoto Protocol are being claimed by Australia against its Paris NDCs. Is that correct?

Mr Isbister : That's right.

Senator WONG: And they are AAUs assigned to us under a negotiated deal rather than, for example, earned carbon market credits through cutting emissions?

Mr Isbister : Yes. It is from exceeding the targets from Kyoto Protocol 1 and exceeding the targets from Kyoto Protocol 2.

Senator WONG: Is there any part of the Paris Agreement that actually specifically allows these past Kyoto units to be carried over into the Paris Agreement accounting period to acquit obligations under Paris?

Mr Isbister : There's no reference to the Kyoto credits in the Paris Agreement.

Senator WONG: That wasn't actually the question. It's not just whether there is a reference. Is there any aspect of the Paris Agreement which permits us to utilise such credits so as to meet an NDC, as put forward under the Paris Agreement?

Mr Isbister : There are no references to it, Senator, either in terms of permitting or excluding the use of carryover—

Senator WONG: Hang on. No reference doesn't mean it's either in or out. Is the use of these credits under the Paris Agreement permitted?

Mr Isbister : It's not referenced in the Paris Agreement.

Senator WONG: Are there any UNFCCC decisions which provide any rules in relation to the purported acquittal of these units?

Mr Isbister : No. The accounting for countries' NDCs was finalised in the Paris book agreements at Katowice in 2018.

Senator WONG: What does that mean?

Mr Isbister : It means how countries account for their NDCs. The Paris Agreement clearly states that countries are able to develop voluntary targets. The way they account for those targets was negotiated in the Paris rulebook in Katowice in—

Senator WONG: Sorry, what is it? Paris?

Mr Isbister : COP24.

Senator Payne: Katowice is the location of COP24.

Senator WONG: Yes. I'm just trying to remember what it was.

Mr Isbister : There was a Paris Agreement. Associated with that is a Paris rulebook as to how countries—

Senator WONG: And the rulebook doesn't specifically enable or empower us to utilise these credits? Your evidence is that countries can make decisions about how they meet their voluntary NDCs. Is that what you're—

Mr Isbister : That's right.

Senator WONG: Was there anything in the Kyoto Protocol about the carryover to a future climate agreement?

Mr Isbister : No. The Kyoto Protocol had references around the use of carryover between the first period and the end of the second period.

Senator WONG: And the second, but not beyond?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: On current projections, these credits are integral to meeting the government's Paris obligations. Correct?

Mr Isbister : I think the Prime Minister has clearly said that—

Senator WONG: I'm asking you. Can we meet the NDCs? I'm not asking about the policy position the government has taken. I'm not asking about the policy position. I'm asking a mathematical proposition. I'm putting to you that the use of these accounting credits is integral to our capacity, on current trajectories, to meet our Paris NDC objectives.

Mr Isbister : They are currently included as part of our accounting for our Paris Agreement. Having said that, the Paris Agreement in essence hasn't even started yet. There's a 10-year period. As projections change, we may well get to the target. As has been said, to the extent necessary, we may or may not need to draw on the credits.

Senator WONG: I'd like you to put in front of me a projection that shows how we can get on current policy settings to the Paris NDC. If you're going to give that evidence, can you please put forward to this committee evidence of a trajectory on existing policy settings that enables us to get to our NDC objective without using the AAUs.

Mr Isbister : I don't think I said that.

Senator WONG: Well, it sounded like it. Maybe I misunderstood.

CHAIR: Allow Mr Isbister to indicate his full answer.

Mr Isbister : I said that on current projections, drawing on the credits, we would meet our target. However, the agreement carries over. Our target is for 2030.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Isbister : The agreement actually comes in place in 2020. If additional measures are put in place and our reductions reduce—

Senator WONG: Sure. If we had a proper plan, we might not need them. I agree with that. Sorry to do this. Have you been involved in climate negotiations prior to this appointment?

Mr Isbister : I was at the Madrid climate negotiations.

Senator WONG: Prior to?

Mr Isbister : No. Not before that.

Senator WONG: Which part of the department did you work in before that?

Mr Isbister : I headed a humanitarian NGO partnerships division.

Senator WONG: Is there anything that you've been provided with as to how this government plans to meet its Paris target in the absence of using these AAUs?

Mr Isbister : I think the government has been clear that, as the Paris Agreement outlines, it will continue to deliver on reductions in emissions. The target is for 2030. The government has outlined, as it said, that they are launching a technological road map. There's the development of a long-term strategy. Each of these issues will be looking at how over time the government will be reducing its emissions and moving to a low carbon economy.

Senator WONG: Has there been any contemplation of the purchase of international offsets?

Mr Isbister : No.

Senator WONG: You attended Madrid. At that conference, the negotiating mandate required the claim for the inclusion of carryover credits from Kyoto. Correct?

Mr Isbister : Can you state the question again, sorry?

Senator WONG: You attended the Madrid climate talks.

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can you confirm that the negotiating mandate for negotiators included a requirement to claim the inclusion of carryover credits from Kyoto?

Mr Isbister : Yes. Well, the mandate was to ensure that we could utilise the overachievement or excess from the Kyoto period to account to the extent necessary for—

Senator WONG: I find the word 'overachievement' in the circumstances somewhat problematic and laden. We didn't overachieve. There was an accounting mechanism.

Senator Payne: It's not a matter for Mr Isbister to comment on.

Senator WONG: I am just flagging it. It's been reported that Australia's negotiating team indicated that the utilisation of carryover credits was a non-negotiable instruction from the Prime Minister. They were not authorised to compromise. Does that reflect the negotiating position?

Mr Isbister : No. We were very clear and transparent that the government had an ambitious target, that we had previously met targets and exceeded those and that the government was planning to meet its Paris target. But that is to the extent necessarily that we had the right to be able to utilise or draw on the excess or credits.

Senator WONG: Opposition on the use of AAUs was non-negotiable, wasn't it?

Mr Isbister : We were clear that it was—

Senator WONG: Were you allowed to negotiate in relation to that, or was that a non-negotiable position? It's a very simple question.

Mr Isbister : We were clear that, in terms of how countries accounted for NDCs, that had been resolved at Katowice in 2018. It wasn't an issue that was for discussion or part of the negotiations for article 6. Article 6 was about how one established international carbon markets trading.

Senator WONG: I will ask the question again. Was it a non-negotiable position for our representatives that Australia be permitted to continue to use the carryover credits for the purposes of meeting our NDC?

Mr Isbister : We were clear on what Australia's position was about the right to be able to draw and utilise carryover.

Senator WONG: We are wandering around. There are negotiating mandates which enable you to move and there are negotiating mandates on certain points which are red lines. Was this a red line?

Mr Isbister : I don't think it's appropriate to go into the negotiating stage.

Senator WONG: You don't get to decide that, actually. If you want to claim a PIR, you refer it to the minister. You don't get to decide what's appropriate.

Senator FAWCETT: I want to ask a follow-up question.

Senator WONG: We'll come back to whatever the claim is and perhaps he can be advised what the Cormann order requires.

CHAIR: Senator Fawcett has a quick follow-up question.

Senator FAWCETT: Would you describe the negotiating instructions similar to the ones that the former government applied when they were considering signing up to Kyoto—that they be allowed to use carryover credits to move from Kyoto 1 to Kyoto 2? Was signature conditional upon that being in there?

Mr Isbister : I can't speak about what the arrangements were at the time in relation to the carryover credits from KP1 to KP2. But certainly that was an agreement that was reached. As to the negotiating instructions used at the time, I wasn't part of the negotiations.

Senator Payne: So they were conditional to signing up.

Senator WONG: This is before we implemented a carbon price that you campaigned against, even as a moderate. I would also make the point that Kyoto 1 contemplated that for Kyoto 2. Kyoto 2 does not contemplate that for a subsequent agreement. Correct?

Mr Isbister : No. But it didn't rule out that necessarily establishing of a third protocol period.

Senator WONG: Wow. It would be really helpful if you could just answer the question rather than give me a line. The Kyoto Protocol contemplated the carryover of credits from one Kyoto period to another. The protocol did not contemplate specifically the carryover of any units under the protocol to a subsequent agreement.

Mr Isbister : There were no references to it.

Senator WONG: Correct. Thank you. Was there any other country at Madrid that supported our position that Kyoto AAUs could be used in order to meet Paris Agreement NDCs?

Mr Isbister : There's no other countries that I'm aware of proposing to utilise the carryover.

Senator WONG: That wasn't the question. Do you want me to repeat the question?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Was there any other country that supported our position?

Mr Isbister : There were no other countries that advocated or supported the position.

Senator WONG: So we're on our own on this one?

Mr Isbister : But the negotiation was about article 6, which is about establishing an actual carbon market solution. It wasn't a discussion about how countries voluntarily accounted for their NDC targets.

Senator WONG: Are there any other countries which support us in our advocacy to utilise these AAUs in the context of the Paris Agreement in order to meet an NDC?

Mr Isbister : Again, I come back that the negotiations weren't actually about that issue.

Senator WONG: I've moved on from the negotiations. I'm now asking generally. You're the ambassador for the environment. Is that right? We don't like using climate change any more. We've gone back to the old name. In the course of your work, can you tell me if there are other countries that support our position?

Mr Isbister : There are countries that don't have a position on it. I wouldn't say there are any countries that come out and say that they are actively supporting it.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr Isbister : Mainly because they are not proposing to utilise it or they haven't got the right—

Senator WONG: No. Precisely.

Mr Isbister : Or they haven't got the right to utilise it.

Senator WONG: But we have no friends on this. In negotiations, not everybody wants the same thing, but you do know if other people are prepared to support the thing you want. I think what you are saying to me is that others don't support the thing that you've been asked to negotiate, which is the use of these credits.

Mr Isbister : And there are others that accept that the way that countries account for their voluntary target has been set. It's a target that countries decide on. The process as to how that is accounted for was negotiated and developed in Katowice.

Senator WONG: Senator Cormann, on 21 February, said this:

We will be finalising our longer term emissions reduction target in time for COP26 in Glasgow later this year.

Is that your understanding of the government's position?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Minister Taylor, 2½ hours later on Sky News, was asked, 'Will you have a target for 2050?' He said, 'We are not going down that path.'

Mr Isbister : My understanding is that the government is committed to developing a long-term strategy moving to a low carbon emissions economy.

Senator WONG: I asked you about the target first.

Mr Isbister : Sorry. I possibly misunderstood. What the government is committed to is developing a long-term emissions strategy and having that launched before COP26.

Senator WONG: Before COP26. Do you understand the strategy to include a target or not?

Mr Isbister : What was agreed in the Kainaki Declaration is that it may include a target. But it doesn't commit to—

Senator WONG: I understand that. What do you understand the government's position to be, or is that a decision yet to be made?

Mr Isbister : I think there is a decision yet to be made. But the strategy is clear about how the government will move towards a low carbon emissions economy and long-term reduction emissions.

Senator WONG: The strategy is clear, you said.

Mr Isbister : In developing technologies and a road map to move towards a low carbon emissions economy.

Senator WONG: If you actually believed that, there would be very few in your sector who actually do.

Senator Payne: That is a comment.

Senator WONG: Well, he's making comments. I'm going to respond.

CHAIR: An interesting observation, Senator. Let's ask questions.

Senator WONG: Well, he shouldn't be making comments like this as an officer from the table.

Mr Isbister : I'm just explaining—

Senator WONG: It's such a political statement—the strategy is clear.

Senator Payne: To be fair—

Senator WONG: Really.

Senator Payne: I've heard plenty of political statements made in estimates.

Senator WONG: Yes, from us. We're politicians.

Senator Payne: I don't regard that as one of them.

Senator WONG: Okay. Well, he can decide. Tell me how the strategy is clear. You made a policy assertion. How is the strategy clear? Which bit of Mr Morrison's government is clear about a strategy to move to low carbon emissions? Is there an energy policy framework that you can point to?

Senator Payne: I think the Prime Minister has been completely clear on this.

Senator WONG: It's clear that you can't get an energy policy in your party room.

CHAIR: Let the minister answer, please.

Senator Payne: He's consistently set out his position, and that is the position of the government.

Senator WONG: Wow. That was fluent and impressive in terms of policy detail.

Senator Payne: Here is the thing. I could actually go through it word by word, sentence by sentence, but I know what you would do; you would interrupt me.

Senator WONG: True.

Senator Payne: You would say you don't want to hear that.

Senator WONG: Yes.

Senator Payne: Would you say you want to talk to the officials?

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Payne: So I'm across it.

Senator WONG: You are. Fair enough.

Senator Payne: There's no problem there.

Senator WONG: Fair enough. I accept that.

Senator Payne: Thanks.

Senator WONG: Do you want to explain why you decide to come to the table and tell us that the government has a clear strategy on the long-term target?

Mr Isbister : Just to be clear, what I'm referring to is what is agreed in the Kainaki Declaration. It includes a call for countries to communicate mid-century, long-term, low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies by 2020. These strategies may include commitments and strategies to achieve net zero carbon by 2050.

Senator WONG: You are the one that said that the strategy is clear. You tell me what you think the government's strategy is.

Mr Isbister : What I am saying is that it's clear that the government is committed to developing a strategy to—

Senator WONG: When did Australia lodge its first NDC with the UNFCCC registry under the Paris Agreement?

Mr Isbister : I would have to check that.

Senator WONG: Can someone behind you find out, please?

Senator Payne: We'll seek to get that advice.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Are you able to give me any indication? Month?

Mr Isbister : No. I can't give you the month.

Senator WONG: Year?

Senator Payne: We'll check.

Senator WONG: By what date are we required to communicate our next NDC?

Mr Isbister : We've got a 2030 target.

Senator WONG: Article 4 of the Paris Agreement requires every five years. I'm trying to get a sense of when.

Mr Isbister : Countries are encouraged to submit NDC updates. So, in 2020, countries are encouraged to update their NDCs. In terms of a target, it's five years before your current target finishes.

Senator Payne: It will be 2025.

Senator WONG: The COP decision, No. 1 of CP21—I'm not quite sure how that reference is written—says:

… Parties shall submit to the secretariat their nationally determined contributions referred to in Article 4 of the Agreement at least 9 to 12 months in advance of the relevant session of the Conference of the Parties …

Does that apply to our next NDC? Is it required to be submitted prior to the Glasgow COP?

Senator Payne: No. That's not my understanding.

Mr Isbister : No. Countries are encouraged to, but it depends when your target is. If your target is 2030, we would update our actual target in 2025.

Senator WONG: Okay. So we can decide not to have a target other than the 2030. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Isbister : We've got a target to 2030.

Senator WONG: I know that. Under the agreement, we have agreed to provide an NDC every five years. I think your evidence is that we don't have to provide a target every five years.

Mr Isbister : That's right.

Senator WONG: Your evidence is the 2030 target is because it's—

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Because it's voluntary, what is included in the NDCs, we don't have to provide a target until 2025. Is that what your evidence is?

Mr Isbister : In terms of a revised target to 2025. But countries may update their NDCs, which can incorporate a range of other things outside simply targets in the interim period.

Senator WONG: Article 4 of paragraph 3 of the Paris Agreement says:

Each Party's successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party's then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition …

What do you understand that to mean in terms of what Australia should do for its next NDC? Set a higher emissions reductions target?

Mr Isbister : Yes. The idea of the Paris Agreement is over time increasing ambition, including reducing emissions.

Senator WONG: So the next NDC, you understand, would need to be more ambitious than the current?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: As yet, the government hasn't indicated when that will happen?

Mr Isbister : No.

Senator WONG: What is the time frame required under the next NDC?

Mr Isbister : Sorry, Senator?

Senator WONG: I'm having a bit of trouble understanding. What target is currently indicated in our NDC?

Mr Isbister : That we will reduce our carbon emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Senator WONG: So are you telling me that under the Paris Agreement, COP decisions, meetings of the parties and negotiations, Australia doesn't need to update to that 2030 target until 2025? Is that your evidence?

Mr Isbister : Yes. Countries are encouraged.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Mr Isbister : Potentially before that to do it. But in terms of under the Paris Agreement, countries are requested to update their target five years before the current one completes.

Senator WONG: Are you familiar with apropos a discussion and correspondence from the University of Sydney to this Minister, the Prime Minister and others from professors of international law and law at the University of Sydney, University of Tasmania, University of Melbourne, the ANU and UTS, which assert that the proposed use of Kyoto credits to meet our targets under the Paris Agreement is legally baseless at international law? The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris agreements are entirely separate treaties and there is no provision in the Paris Agreement that refers to the KP or to the units established under it.

Mr Isbister : I saw a copy of that letter yesterday.

Senator WONG: But you don't agree with this? Have you got other legal advice contrary to this?

Mr Isbister : We've received that letter and, obviously, to date we haven't come to any view on it in relation to the advice.

Senator WONG: It's interesting because your evidence to date is contrary to this letter.

Mr Isbister : Well, the evidence to date is saying that, under the Paris Agreement, countries are required to develop voluntary targets and then how they account for those. The view of the government is that our ability to account for that and the use of carryover is a decision by state parties.

Senator WONG: You used the term 'encouraged' in relation to earlier communication of an updated NDC. I understand that article 4 paragraph 9, which I asked you about previously, uses the word 'shall' communicate an NDC every five years. Are we misunderstanding each other?

Mr Isbister : No. There's a debate in terms of when countries finish their targets. They are encouraged, as I said, to put in an NDC. Whether it's a requirement or not, different countries are taking positions. A number of countries are updating their NDCs. Australia may or may not before COP26. But the requirement is to deliver your updated emissions reduction target five years before the completion of the existing one.

Senator WONG: The completion of?

Mr Isbister : The existing target.

Senator WONG: Can you on notice provide a list of countries that have high or comparable global emission contributions to Australia that have also committed to net zero emissions by 2050?

Mr Isbister : Sorry, Senator?

Senator WONG: Can you provide a list—

Senator Payne: Was that on notice, Senator?

Senator WONG: Yes. Has the UK government expressed any concern to Australia about the government's position on the use of carryover credits?

Mr Isbister : The UK government said that it's keen for all countries coming to COP26 to bring ambitious commitments, including how Australia will bring commitments to that as well.

Senator WONG: Shall I repeat my question, because that wasn't an answer? Has the UK government expressed any concerns to Australia about the government's position on the use of carryover credits?

Mr Isbister : The UK government has expressed a view. Their preference would be that the Australian government wasn't utilising the Kyoto credits.

Senator WONG: So even the conservative British government doesn't agree with our position. It's probably not a question you can answer. I think you said the UK government has expressed a preference that we not utilise these AAUs in these ways and that we don't engage in this accounting move. We would say it is a trick. I'm trying to work out at which level that has been expressed. Has that preference been expressed at negotiator level?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator WONG: Has it been expressed at your level, Secretary?

Ms Adamson : Not at my level, no.

Senator WONG: Has it been expressed at ministerial level?

Senator Payne: No.

Senator WONG: Did foreign secretary Raab express that in his recent visit?

Senator Payne: No. Otherwise I would have responded differently to your previous question.

Senator WONG: I meant generally: publicly.

Senator Payne: We discussed the broad issue but not the specific question that you've raised. The Prime Minister took the opportunity in a part of his discussion with the foreign secretary to outline the work that Australia is already doing, particularly in relation to the plan we have for 2030 and the strong focus on technology.

Senator WONG: I will go to the Pacific on climate. The PIF communique and the declaration for urgent climate change action calls for all parties to the Paris Agreement to meet or exceed their NDCs in order to pursue global efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. We're not doing that, are we?

Mr Isbister : Can you repeat the question?

Senator WONG: The PIF communique last year included a declaration for urgent climate change action. Paragraph 19 of that declaration 'calls for all parties'—I'm quoting:

… to the Paris Agreement to meet or exceed their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in order to pursue global efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,

I'm putting to you that we are not doing that. The government is not doing that.

Mr Isbister : I wouldn't necessarily agree with that, no.

Senator WONG: Do you think our target is consistent with the 1.5 degree global target?

Mr Isbister : No. I think the approach of the Paris Agreement is that it builds ambition and reductions over time of the agreement.

Senator WONG: I'm entirely aware of the Paris Agreement. I am asking you about the PIF declaration and the exhortation in that. Do you want me to read it to you again?

Mr Isbister : No. I think I've got it. The point is that the government has got a clear 2030 target about reducing per capita emissions by 50 per cent by 2030. Over time, the Paris Agreement and the government have committed to increasing ambition with the objective of delivering on the Paris commitment of keeping temperature rises below two degrees and as close to 1.5 as possible.

Senator WONG: But the PIF declaration actually seeks that people do more.

Senator Payne: What the Prime Minister has said in relation to the Kainaki II Declaration, which I think is the one that you are referring to—

Senator WONG: Yes. Sorry, it is.

Senator Payne: He has referred to the 2050 request that we undertook to look at in our commitment through the Pacific Islands Forum process. That's what I intend to do. So the Prime Minister has made his commitment to do that clear.

Senator WONG: We're not contemplating, as I understand the evidence and your evidence, any change to our existing target before 2025?

Senator Payne: Senator, the government absolutely plans to meet our commitments for 2030, as has been set out quite clearly by the Prime Minister on multiple occasions.

Senator WONG: But the Kainaki Declaration, as you know—it's not a legal requirement, I agree; it is an ethical and regional call—is calling on us and others to do more and to lift our ambition consistent with a 1.5 degree target. I am just confirming that the government is not intending to do that at this point.

Senator Payne: Well, the Prime Minister has said in relation to the Kainaki II Declaration and the 2050 request that it has in there that we will look at that commitment through the process very clearly. That's his undertaking.

Senator WONG: But not until 2025. I am sorry if I misunderstood the evidence earlier. I thought we established from the evidence earlier that you're not going to increase your ambition until 2025.

Mr Isbister : The requirement.

Senator WONG: Sure. You can say that. But our Pacific Islands neighbours have asked to us do it earlier and we're saying, 'We're going to think about it in half a decade'. That's the Morrison government's position.

Senator Payne: Well, it is through the Prime Minister's undertaking pursuant to the Kainaki II Declaration. The plan that we already have for 2030 includes the 26 per cent emissions reductions; builds on the 12.8 per cent emissions reduction since 2018; includes meeting and exceeding our Kyoto targets this year by, as the Prime Minister has said, 411 million tonnes; includes our hydrogen energy strategy; includes Snowy 2 and pumped hydro; and includes a large number of other renewable projects. As you know, all of those things are part of the government's plan.

Senator WONG: We have Pacific Step-up. We understand the importance to the region. This is their No. 1 ask. We're saying to them, 'Hang around for half a decade and we'll consider it.'

Senator Payne: Senator, I can't be clearer than to say the Prime Minister has absolutely undertaken to meet the commitment that was agreed in the Kainaki II Declaration.

Senator WONG: But you've just told me the government's position is not to update our target until 2025.

Senator Payne: Because the government is doing all of the things that I've already indicated.

Senator WONG: I think they were calling for a bit more.

Senator Payne: We could also happily spend a long time discussing the support that we are providing in the Pacific in relation to climate as well, if you wish.

Senator WONG: Minister, let's not do this.

CHAIR: Let's ask the questions.

Senator WONG: You engage with Pacific island nation leaders and counterparts regularly. You know the first thing that is so often raised is climate because it is an existential threat.

Senator Payne: Sure.

Senator WONG: Unlike here, it's not a political issue around which there are culture wars. There are people across politics who understand what this means in Pacific island nations. I'm looking for us to do more and we are saying no.

Senator Payne: We don't quibble with that at all.

Senator WONG: I am sorry; I was in a meeting. I think Senator Faruqi may have asked this. What analysis of risk and impacts of climate change on Pacific island nations has the department undertaken? Is there a document we can look at? Is there an analysis? Do you want to take it on notice and let me know the various things we should look at?

Senator Payne: We'll take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Has there been work in government on potential people movement risks associated with climate change from our near region?

Mr Isbister : As you know, the government has released a climate change strategy that guides the decisions on how the aid program mainstreams climate change through its investments globally, but particularly in the Pacific. The focus in relation to the Pacific region is how to support communities, businesses and governments to be prepared and able to deal with the impacts of climate change, including to potentially adapt.

Senator WONG: So you want me to look at the climate change strategy for an analysis of the risks of people movement or is there somewhere else in government that has done this?

Ms Adamson : The foreign policy white paper set out in broad terms—

Senator WONG: Yes, it did.

Ms Adamson : It is a 2017 document. It sets out the implications involved in climate change of the kind that you've described. I think Ms Klugman has some more information that she may be able to add with specific relationship to the Pacific. Long-term people movements is something that we have very much in mind, particularly in relation to our own region.

Ms Klugman : We have done work on all aspects of the vulnerabilities that we see in partners in the region. Some of that has been particularly focused on the smaller island states of the Pacific Islands Forum. It's the sort of work we do, for example, when we do diagnostics that lead into our aid investment plans so that we can be assured that the interaction we have and the support we provide is actually relevant beyond the snapshot of current challenges facing those countries and those economies. We try to look a bit further ahead. The various impacts of climate change are factored into that process. We have not done separate work on the movement of peoples.

Senator WONG: Is anybody going to do that?

Ms Klugman : That is a difficult question for me to answer.

Senator WONG: General Campbell, in a speech to the Institute for Regional Security's National Management Symposium at Bowral in June last year, said, and I quote:

… climate change will have serious ramifications for global security.

Does the government agree with the CDF?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: He also went on to say, in relation to Pacific island leaders:

Recent statements by Pacific Island leaders indicate they see climate change as the biggest threat to their national security and they want us to do more.

Does the government agree with the CDF in that regard?

Ms Adamson : That's certainly a view that's been expressed in the Pacific.

Ms Klugman : The statement that climate change represents the greatest threat—

Senator WONG: Contained in the—

Ms Klugman : Security threat to Pacific island countries is indeed contained in the Boyd declaration. We have very much signed up to that. I think it's probably echoed also in Kainaki from the last Pacific Islands Forum leaders meeting.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I have finished on this point, I'm sure you're happy to hear. I want to turn to media freedom.

Mr Isbister : Just before I leave, I want to report that the date we submitted our first NDC was August 2015.

Senator WONG: August 2015. And we're not proposing to update it before 2025. Is that what the evidence is?

Mr Isbister : When the government decides to update the NDC is a decision by government. But the requirement under the Paris agreement to update our target is 2025.

Senator WONG: Have you been advised of any decision of government or any intention by government to update it prior than the legally prescribed date?

Mr Isbister : Well, the issue about updating the NDC is more than the target. You can update your NDC to include additional measures and aspects in your NDC about addressing climate change emissions. So it's not solely around the issue of the target. So the government may make a decision to update its NDC.

Senator WONG: But you've not been advised of any intention to do so?

Mr Isbister : No. But it's an issue that obviously we continue to look at under the Paris agreement.

Senator WONG: You should just say no, because the rest is a matter for government. You've not been advised of any intention by this government to update its NDC prior to 2025.

Senator Payne: Which is what is required under the Paris Agreement.

Senator WONG: Sure. I understand that. He has said that many times. I'm just making a point. Thank you. I turn to the UK media freedom pledge. The UK have a global pledge on media freedom. Can someone give me a quick update on what that includes?

Dr Lee : I don't have the UK pledge of media freedom in front of me. We are able to provide you with a copy of it. Australia has not joined.

Senator WONG: That's what I was going to ask. My recollection—you can provide this on notice—of what were you just saying, Dr Lee, is that you were going to give me it on notice?

Dr Lee : If you want a copy of the UK pledge, we can provide a copy of—

Senator WONG: I think I can get that online, but thank you.

Dr Lee : what the UK document is. Australia has not joined.

Senator WONG: Can you provide me on notice with a list of countries that have joined?

Dr Lee : I can provide that on notice.

Senator WONG: Minister Payne attended the global conference for media freedom hosted by the UK and Canadian governments in London on July 2019, I think. Is that right?

Dr Lee : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Can someone tell me why we haven't joined the pledge?

Dr Lee : It's a decision of the government why we have not joined. I think prior to the minister's attendance—and the minister will probably recall this herself—we did not receive a lot of notice of the pledge and its contents.

Senator WONG: I'm very sorry. Could you repeat that last sentence?

Dr Lee : We did not join.

Senator WONG: Before?

Dr Lee : Beforehand. As I say, we did not get a significant amount of time before the meeting in July to fully assess the contents of the pledge before that meeting.

Senator WONG: I know. But that was—what?—nine months ago.

Dr Lee : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Minister, can you explain why the government has chosen not to join the pledge?

Senator Payne: I think there were a number of reasons at the time. I actually don't have the material in front of me either. One of the issues was that we had, I think, an inquiry underway here in Australia on that subject matter at the time. I think the pledge also contained some fairly vague requirements or requests around funding, which we had sought more advice on. I've discussed this again recently with Secretary Raab and undertaken to him to have another look at it.

Senator WONG: We are for freedom of the press, aren't we?

Senator Payne: You know we are, Senator.

Senator WONG: But we don't want to join?

Senator Payne: Well, there were a number of issues at the time, which include, as I said, the inquiry here. Dr Lee is—

Senator WONG: The inquiry.

Senator Payne: Dr Lee's—

Senator WONG: Sorry, the inquiry.

Senator Payne: There was an inquiry on press freedom here underway at the time, which I think was somewhat contentious, if I recall. Dr Lee's—

Senator WONG: My advice to you would be, though, that surely the foreign minister and cabinet should do what they think is right.

Senator Payne: Well, this is correct.

Senator WONG: Much as there are parliamentary processes.

Senator Payne: And we do. But Dr Lee is right in terms of the way it was brought together at the time. The requests were not, in my view, as Australia's foreign minister, not as well articulated as they could have been around this matter. So I undertook with foreign secretary Raab to review it.

Senator WONG: A free press is one of our democratic principles. This has obviously been an issue where there has been some controversy. Obviously, there was a pretty high profile police raid on a journalist, which has caused a lot of understandable concern. Are you not concerned that we're not standing with other like-minded democracies together in asserting the principle of freedom of the press?

Senator Payne: I spoke at the conference in London that you referred to. We have been a strong advocate of freedom of the press in all of our work where it is relevant in the Human Rights Council. We raise it regularly—

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Payne: in our interventions. We worked very hard, not that it was acknowledged much at the time, to support the efforts of Reuters in relation to the detention of their two journalists in Myanmar. I am pleased to say that ultimately those two journalists were released.

Senator WONG: So it's consistent with our principles to sign—

Senator Payne: So this is something which is—

Senator WONG: Surely it's consistent with our principles to join the pledge.

Senator Payne: And I've said to—

Senator WONG: You attended the conference.

Senator Payne: I said to secretary Raab that I would review it.

Senator WONG: Is there a difference of views between ministers about this issue?

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

Senator WONG: Have you proposed to your colleagues that we do this?

Senator Payne: Senator, I don't go into discussions with my colleagues, as you're aware.

Senator WONG: I just wonder if we're actually doing something on it.

Senator Payne: I don't go into discussions with my colleagues, as you're aware.

Senator WONG: I don't think you should just turn up to a conference and say we're for media freedom and then just leave that hanging. I don't understand.

Senator Payne: Well, we don't just leave it hanging. In fact, I would say we do very much more than that, which includes our regular raising of these issues, particularly in the Human Rights Council, where they are appropriately acknowledged.

Senator WONG: Which I acknowledge. I acknowledge that there has been a bipartisan effort across successive governments to articulate and assert internationally our view about the importance of freedom of the press. That's been a consistent position. That's come under some criticism and some pressure because of the actions that we've discussed—the raiding of a journalist, going through people's drawers et cetera. People are understandably concerned about that. But leaving aside that domestic controversy, I would agree that there has been a consistent international position that foreign ministers of both sides have articulated. I find it perplexing that we have not signed up to a pledge of the UK government. It is obviously a nation with whom we have a lot of affinity, and we've not signed up to their proposal.

Senator Payne: I have no disagreement with you on the matters that you have indicated in relation to the closeness of our relationship with the United Kingdom. I have no disagreement on the principles in relation to the matters of freedom of the press that we are talking about. But, as I said, and Dr Lee is correct, when the matter was brought forward, it was not something that I felt was in a state that we should proceed with. I've spoken to foreign Secretary Raab about it and indicated that I will review it.

Dr Lee : If I may, further to what the minister earlier indicated as well, there was a sense of financial obligations that may be expected of those that sign up to the pledge. That would be another consideration that had to be taken into account.

Senator WONG: So we don't want to put our money where our mouth is? Is that what that means?

Senator Payne: We put a considerable amount of effort behind our advocacy in our posts in a range of countries.

Senator WONG: We're about to talk about how much money we put into ODA. I'm going to go to that question soon. I've just received advice, which I want to confirm with the ambassador for the environment, that we lodged our first NDC in August 2015. The Paris agreement says that parties shall communicate an NDC every five years. I understand the advice to be that, notwithstanding that, the government has not decided whether it will lodge a new NDC in 2020. Is the ambassador still here?

Senator Payne: My understanding is that we're not required to lodge an NDC in 2020.

Senator WONG: I want to check that. Australia lodged its first NDC in August 2015. That's what I've been advised. The Paris agreement says that parties shall communicate an NDC every five years. I interpolate there, so you don't answer it again, that it doesn't have to include a new target but shall communicate a new NDC every five years. At this stage, the government has not decided whether it will lodge a new NDC in 2020.

Mr Isbister : That's right.

Senator WONG: Are all three of those propositions correct?

Mr Isbister : Correct.

Senator WONG: I want to go to ODA now. We have not had an opportunity to update these questions about the table, I don't think, that you tabled this morning. Thank you for the table.

CHAIR: We have the table in front of us.

Senator WONG: I want to go to question on notice No. 74.

CHAIR: You have five minutes.

Senator WONG: That's really problematic, isn't it? I'm trying to work out whether I should do this later, because it is quite a long series of questions. Let me do a couple of things quickly. I want to confirm question on notice 74, which sets out in very small font tables of expenditure by country and by investment priority since 2014-15. Total ODA over that period has fallen from just over $5 billion in 2014-15 to $4.044 billion in 2019-20. That's a reduction of just under 20 per cent. That's on average. The figures you've provided me within that question on notice demonstrates that, obviously, for some countries the cuts have been much larger than the 19 per cent, because that's an average cut. The figures also confirm that ODA countries in South-East Asia and East Asia, including regional aid to those two regions, reduces from $1,289.8 million to $905 million over that period 2014-15 to 2019-20. So that's a 30 per cent reduction for South-East Asia and East Asia. Can someone explain to me how it is in our interests to cut development assistance to South-East Asia by nearly one-third?

Ms Adamson : When you put the question in that way, of course, it's difficult to give anything other than the obvious answer. I want to submit—and I'm sure you'll want to discuss—that within a finite envelope, $4 billion, where we need to make decisions about where we can best direct our development assistance, is one element in part of the answer, obviously. Another part, though, is that our relationships with south-east Asian countries are generally a very high priority for the government and are not defined solely, or indeed partly, in terms of the amount of bilateral development assistance that we're able to deliver. Ms Heckscher has come to the table. She will be able, country by country across South-East Asia, to explain the depth and growing breadth of our relationship with almost every country. That's been underscored by prime ministerial visits and visits by ministers.

Senator WONG: Sure. But ODA matters. Certainly we've had public reports. One headline is 'Jakarta saddened by foreign aid cuts'. The article states:

… Indonesia's Deputy Minister for Population and Labour Affairs, told an aid conference in Canberra that he was disappointed at the cut in Australian aid to his country over the same period.

I'm just trying to understand, given what the white paper says and given the importance of our region, why at this point we think it is in our national interest to reduce ODA, our development assistance, to South-East Asia.

Ms Adamson : Part of the answer is that we can because South-East Asia has developed, as you know yourself, extremely well and rapidly over decades and even rapidly in recent years. The nature of the assistance that we deliver has changed and now goes much more to policy advice around economic performance.

Senator WONG: Someone was going to give me details; I can't find them. I think 160 million Indonesians live below a particular income level. Ms Heckscher, you probably know that better than me. But the fact that there has been, thankfully, development in Indonesia does not mean that there are not many Indonesians through the archipelago who are still in need of substantial amounts of public—I use that in a broad sense, whether domestic or otherwise—support and assistance.

Ms Adamson : That is, of course, correct. Ms Heckscher, I'm sure, will be able to pick up the discussion at a greater level of detail.

CHAIR: Are we able to pick up that discussion after 3.45 pm? We'll go to Senator Waters now. Senator Wong, I'll have a discussion with you as to your timetable.

Senator WATERS: I will kick off with questions on Australian women and children in Syria. I would like to ask about Australian women and children in the Al-Hawl camp in Syria. No doubt you're aware of the terrible conditions there, including the reports of an Australian child, Amirah, who might lose her fingers to frostbite. The UN commission of inquiry on Syria in January called on countries to repatriate children and their caregivers as soon as possible. Are there plans to repatriate the Australian women and children in line with those UN calls?

Mr Foley : We're aware of the comments by the UN. The government's ability to assist is very limited due to the very dangerous security situation on the ground. As you know, it's a 'do not travel' zone. The Prime Minister has said we remain concerned for the Australians in the camp. It's a dangerous and unpredictable situation. The government does not wish to put Australian officials or the public in danger. We monitor the situation as closely as we can and receive information from a range of parties.

Senator WATERS: Has the government developed any plans with the Kurdish authorities on possible repatriation options? Has either the department or home affairs or any other agency had contact with the Kurdish authorities about negotiating the repatriation of children?

Mr Foley : We had contact with the Kurdish authorities when a group of orphans was repatriated last June.

Senator WATERS: Have you had contact since about the remaining women and children in the camp?

Mr Foley : As I said, the situation on the ground there is very dangerous. We don't have a permanent presence on the ground. It's a difficult place to visit. It's a dangerous place to visit.

Senator WATERS: So you haven't had contact with the Kurdish authorities since last June about any further repatriations?

Mr Foley : I think it's fair to say officials in various locations have a dialogue with Kurdish authorities on the situation on the ground.

Senator WATERS: Regarding repatriation?

Mr Foley : As I said, we remain concerned about the situation. It's a dangerous situation.

Senator WATERS: Yes. I'm not sure what your actual answer to my question is.

Ms Adamson : You asked at the outset whether there is a plan. That is the nub of your question.

Senator WATERS: Yes.

Ms Adamson : The answer to that is no.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. My subsequent question was whether we are pursuing avenues with other folk that might assist—firstly, the Kurdish authorities. I'm still not clear whether we've pursued that since last June.

Ms Adamson : I think Mr Foley's evidence is that we keep in touch through a range of different mechanisms. As he said, we don't have a presence on the ground but we do have posts in the region. We speak to NGOs and others involved in that part of north-east Syria in the camps. Where we can, there are conversations that go to particular conditions. But I don't think we can be more specific than that because there are a range of posts that keep an eye on this. As Mr Foley said, we haven't had a DFAT presence there since that work done to bring the orphans back.

Senator WATERS: Given your mention of our posts, have our embassies in the Middle East—for example, in Iraq—developed any plans to assist with the safe passage of Australians out of northern Syria?

Ms Adamson : As I said, there are currently no plans.

Senator WATERS: I beg your pardon? It's terribly noisy.

Ms Adamson : Sorry. The division bells, yes. As I said, there are currently no plans to be able to do that.

Senator WATERS: The US has offered to assist us with safe passage. Has the department proactively contacted US officials to discuss that offer, noting that you say there are no plans? Have we at least responded to that offer?

Mr Foley : We're certainly very well aware of the US comments. It's a universal position they have that people should be repatriated. We continue to work closely with them. We explore what hypothetical options they and others might be prepared to offer should that be an option.

Senator WATERS: Do I take that to mean that we are investigating that offer?

Mr Foley : We keep in contact with a range of countries and international organisations, including, of course, the US on the situation on the ground there and what various countries are doing about various aspects of it.

Senator WATERS: What do you think it would take for us to accept that offer from the US?

Mr Foley : That would obviously be a decision for government.

Senator WATERS: Are there any particular criteria that would need to be met or considerations that would be factored in that you are able to share?

Mr Foley : I guess that call for an assessment of the situation at the time.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I want to move to Israel, Palestine and, in particular, our intervention in the International Criminal Court.

Senator Payne: I note that questions on this matter have been previously asked and answered.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I am across the questions that Senator Van asked. I have some different questions.

Senator Payne: I understand that. If there are matters which officials can indicate they've already answered, I'll ask them to do that.

Senator WATERS: That's fine.

Senator Payne: And then the Hansard is available.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Just in relation to our engagement with the ICC, particularly regarding the investigation of those crimes within Palestine and noting Senator Van's earlier questions, can I confirm that Australia has been a strong supporter of the ICC and the treaty that saw its establishment?

Mr Larsen : Australia is a strong supporter of the International Criminal Court and has long been engaged in its activities.

Senator WATERS: Both Australia and Palestine are state parties to the ICC, are we not, with Palestine joining in 2015?

Mr Larsen : Australia is a state party to the International Criminal Court. We don't recognise the Palestinians as a state party.

Senator WATERS: Okay. I understand they are, independent of our assessment, a party to the ICC.

Mr Larsen : A number of states and the court itself treats them as such, yes.

Senator WATERS: And that occurred in 2015, yes?

Mr Larsen : I'm not sure of the exact date, but relatively recently, yes.

Senator WATERS: Do you accept that we have the same status before the ICC?

Mr Larsen : No, I don't. We're a state party. We don't accept that the Palestinians are.

Senator WATERS: Did we raise any objection at the time they sought to become a party?

Mr Larsen : Yes, we did.

Senator WATERS: Could you perhaps on notice direct me to any documentation that I can read regarding that?

Mr Larsen : Correspondence was filed with the UN Secretary-General and written by our ambassador to the United Nations, Gillian Bird.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Regarding the preliminary investigation, I understand—

Senator WONG: That will be on notice provided to the committee, or can that be tabled?

Senator Payne: I think Senator Waters has asked for it on notice.

Senator WONG: Yes.

Senator WATERS: Look, if you have it to hand, by all means, please table it.

Mr Larsen : I don't have it with me. We will provide it on notice, of course.

Senator WATERS: Thank you very much. Regarding the preliminary investigation, I understand that the ICC has been examining crimes allegedly committed by both the Palestinian and Israeli actors. Is that correct as far as your understanding?

Mr Larsen : As I understand it, if I recall correctly, the preliminary investigation is in relation to crimes committed in the Palestinian territories.

Senator WATERS: By both actors, though?

Mr Larsen : I don't recall the precise terminology. It certainly potentially covers actors on all sides.

Senator WATERS: Does Australia support the implementation of international law in those territories?

Mr Larsen : Of course.

Senator WATERS: I understand that we're intending to file an amicus brief. I think we know, according to earlier questions, that will be filed on 16 March regarding the pre-trial proceedings in relation to that investigation into Palestine. Can you indicate what general sorts of arguments we're intending to make in that amicus brief?

Mr Larsen : I might clarify that I don't think it's technically an amicus brief. As a state party, we have been invited to submit observations to the court. We were invited to seek leave to submit observations. We have sought leave and been granted leave to submit observations. We intend doing so. The application for leave that we made indicated that the observations would focus on the question of appropriate jurisdiction. That is the basis on which our observations will be drafted.

Senator WATERS: That's indeed the matter under question. Is our view that jurisdiction of the court is enlivened or not?

Mr Larsen : I'm not going to pre-empt, if I may, the substance of our observations. We have indicated to the court that we will be making a submission which relates to the jurisdictional competence of the International Criminal Court in this matter. The question of 'statehood' for the Palestinian territories, of course, is in issue.

Senator WATERS: Will that observation be made public or available to us?

Mr Larsen : I'm not absolutely sure, but I would expect that it will because it's submitted to the court. It's a matter for the court as to what the court wishes to do with it. I have a reasonable expectation that it would be published on the court's website or file.

Senator WATERS: Did we have any direct communication from any state parties or even from any non-state parties encouraging us to make those observations and/or submit an amicus brief?

Mr Larsen : As you would expect, we had exchanges with a number of states in relation to the matter. Some states encouraged us to submit observations, yes.

Senator WATERS: Which states are they?

Mr Larsen : The only one of which I am aware is Israel. But there may well have been others.

Senator WATERS: Could you take on notice which other state parties and non-state parties asked us to do either an observation or an amicus brief or, conversely, asked us not to?

Mr Larsen : I'm not sure that it's necessary to take it on notice. Israel—

Senator WATERS: If you can answer it now, great.

Mr Larsen : Israel certainly made representations to the Australian government, including myself, but others as well. The substance of my answer is that I'm not aware of anybody else making such representations, but I didn't preclude it as a possibility.

Senator WATERS: If you wouldn't mind checking if there are any additional state parties or non-state parties, please, could you get back to us on notice?

Mr Larsen : Insofar as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade knows. Unless one of my colleagues here is aware of another direct representation from another country, I imagine it's just Israel. However, I would emphasise that we were, of course, in communication with a number of other states about their intentions. That, of course, helped inform our assessment.

Senator WATERS: In relation to those other states, are they doing amicus briefs or observations?

Mr Larsen : It's observations. So a number of those states have filed an application seeking leave to submit observations. I don't know the answer as to whether they've been granted leave, but I expect they probably have. So I expect some of them will.

Senator WATERS: What is the purpose of us providing those observations? What observations will we provide that might be different from some of those other state parties' observations? What gap are we filling by intervening?

Mr Larsen : I'm not sure that we're filling a gap. Australia is a state party to the International Criminal Court. It has an obvious stake in the court's jurisdiction over such matters. We have an obvious stake in contributing to the court's jurisprudence in considering its jurisdictional competence on matters of fundamental importance. We will put forward such observations as we think are appropriate. It's neither here nor there whether there's a gap.

Senator WATERS: What interests of Australia are we seeking to advance by submitting these observations?

Mr Larsen : It's obviously imperative that an international institution like the International Criminal Court exercises its jurisdiction appropriately in ways which reflect the views of states parties. It is the case that there may well be a difference between some states parties in relation to the jurisdictional competence of the court in this matter. Australia has a particular view. A number of states share that view. I expect those states will put forward observations to ensure that the court is appropriately informed of those views.

Senator WATERS: When you say Australia has a view—

CHAIR: The ICC does not have jurisdiction to declare an organisation a state party for the purposes of its jurisdiction.

Mr Larsen : That's certainly my view, yes.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Just on that question: you said that Australia has a view and we will be effectively putting it. Is that the view that you weren't able to share with me earlier? What is the view that Australia has?

Mr Larsen : You asked me to foreshadow what would be included in our observations. I said I wasn't in a position to foreshadow it because the settlement of what is in our observations, obviously, will be done via a number of government agencies and settled by ministers. But I did indicate to you that the question of jurisdictional competence is a relevant consideration. Of course, one of the issues is the question of whether or not the Palestinian territories constitutes a state. In Australia's view, it does not.

Senator WATERS: Thanks for that clarification. I have a few questions about the detailed proposal regarding Israel and Palestine that was released by President Trump in late January. It appears that major world players are seeing this plan as a radical departure from the rule of law. What is Australia's view on that?

Mr Larsen : We wouldn't take that view.

Senator WATERS: We don't take that view. My understanding is that Australia's policy is to support the negotiation of final status issues between the parties. Is that correct?

Mr Larsen : Correct.

Senator WATERS: Does President Trump's proposal pre-empt those negotiations by making proposals for every single final status issue?

Mr Larsen : Not in my view.

Senator WATERS: Why is that?

Mr Larsen : It is a plan for consideration by the parties. It puts forward various propositions. The parties are free to reject or accept them.

Senator WATERS: Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he will annex significant parts of the occupied West Bank and the Jordan Valley should he continue on as Prime Minister. What is the Australian government's position on that proposal?

Mr Larsen : I will defer to my bilateral colleague.

Dr Macdonald : The Australian government's view is to urge both sides to take no unilateral action that might undermine prospects for direct negotiations in pursuit of a peaceful settlement.

Senator WATERS: Have we made those representations to the Israeli government to urge it against annexation?

Dr Macdonald : In terms of urging against unilateral actions, yes.

Senator WATERS: Have we talked about that in the context of the annexation proposal?

Dr Macdonald : We regularly raise our concerns about some of those activities with Israeli authorities.

Senator WATERS: So they understand that we regard annexation as a unilateral action and that we don't support unilateral actions?

Dr Macdonald : I can't speak to their understanding of that.

Senator WATERS: But we've put that view to them—that we would regard any annexation as a unilateral action?

Dr Macdonald : No. I would not characterise it like that.

Senator WATERS: I don't mean to misunderstand. What was our view on the annexation? What have we put to the Israeli government?

Dr Macdonald : Our view is that we urge them not to undertake any unilateral actions that diminish the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution.

Senator WATERS: Including annexation?

Dr Macdonald : Yes.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I'm sorry to belabour the point, but I want to understand you there. I will move now to Myanmar. I would like to ask about media reports that our ambassador to Myanmar met with the Myanmar military's commander in chief, General Min Aung Hlaing. As you would be aware, the general was named in the UN's fact finding mission as 'warranting individual investigation and prosecution for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya people'. He has also been sanctioned by the US. Given this, can you detail the decision-making process within the department that led to Ambassador Faulkner publicly meeting with the general, exchanging gifts and having photos taken?

Ms Heckscher : We have previously at various Senate estimates processes discussed our continuing engagement with the Tatmadaw, or defence, in Myanmar. Engagement with the Tatmadaw is critical if we are to pursue any kind of improvements or support for the democratic transitional process in Myanmar. The Tatmadaw basically control 25 per cent of the seats in parliament and a number of the security agencies report to it. We have very deliberately maintained engagement with the Tatmadaw so that we can engage with this critical part of the Myanmar administration and we can engage in order to urge improvements to the situation and the condition of the Rohingya both within Myanmar and those who may eventually return. As part of that engagement, we engage with the Tatmadaw at the most senior levels, including the commander-in-chief. We are not the only government to do so. Other governments do so as well. So this engagement by our ambassador with the commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw is very much part of our process of engagement in order to urge improvements. That's exactly what our ambassador did.

Senator WATERS: I do have some further detailed questions about that. Who requested the meeting? Was it the general or our ambassador, or the department asked the ambassador to do it? Who initiated the meeting?

Ms Heckscher : I am sure that our ambassador sought the meeting. It would be part of our ongoing engagement with senior members of the Myanmar government so that we can actually engage on human rights issues, urge improvements and urge steps to be taken to improve the situation of the Rohingya.

Senator WATERS: So what was discussed? Was there a pre-agreed agenda?

Ms Heckscher : Pre-agreed between whom?

Senator WATERS: The participants to the meeting—the general and our ambassador.

Ms Heckscher : I don't know if there was a pre-agreed agenda. The normal practice for seeking formal meetings at senior levels with governments overseas would be that you indicate in general the kinds of things you want to discuss.

Senator WATERS: And which issues were they?

Ms Heckscher : This is not the first time, by the way, that our ambassador has met the command-in-chief. She made an introductory call when she was first appointed. I am sure that, as part of seeking that engagement, the wish to make representations about the human rights situation no doubt would have been mentioned as well. It would have been expected on their side.

Senator WATERS: So you can confirm that we did raise concerns about genocide and crimes against humanity?

Ms Heckscher : Yes. I can confirm that we did raise concerns.

Senator WATERS: Have other countries made representations to Australia to suspend our military cooperation with Myanmar? Are we considering doing so?

Ms Heckscher : Have other governments requested us to do so?

Senator WATERS: Yes.

Ms Heckscher : Not to my knowledge. In fact, a number of governments continue their engagement with the Tatmadaw.

Senator WATERS: Are we considering suspending military cooperation?

Ms Heckscher : We have had this discussion in previous estimates. As far as I am aware, we are not currently considering suspending it. Whilst I have noted that there are other governments who continue their engagement with the Tatmadaw in the Myanmar system, we are an important country that continues to do so expressly so that we have opportunities to engage and to raise issues that not necessarily every country will.

Senator WATERS: Lastly, on this issue: can you explain why the Australian government has not yet sanctioned the general when we've sanctioned the five other generals named in the fact finding mission's report?

Ms Heckscher : Decisions about who to sanction are made very carefully, taking into account our broader interests in continuing to be able to engage at senior levels to raise particular issues. There are also differences between the sanctions regimes of different countries. That is the case here.

Senator WATERS: I might ask you some more questions on notice on that issue. I will move now, in the brief time I have left, to India. I would like to ask about the human rights situation there, particularly for Muslim people, given the recent targeted violence against them. Is the Australian government concerned by the recent violence in India, which has seen the deaths of many mainly Muslim Indians and some displacement from their homes in parts of Delhi? If we are concerned, have we made any representations to the Indian government regarding its response to the violence, particularly in relation to the slow police response?

Mr Brazier : I was in India last week and was in New Delhi at the time of the unrest in the north-eastern part of the city. Of course we would be concerned by the violence that took place and, in that few days, claimed more than 40 lives.

Senator WATERS: Have we made representation? I am conscious that I have only five minutes left and two other topics.

Mr Brazier : I was just about to answer that question. In the time that I've been in this position, I've met the Indian high commissioner here twice. On both occasions, we've discussed various matters related to interreligious harmony in India. Those discussions have always been very courteous. He always engages genuinely in them and takes on board our principal point, which is that India's great strength and its great attraction is in its secular and democratic character.

Senator WATERS: Has our government expressed any concerns about India's Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which passed their parliament late last year and legalised the granting of Indian citizenship based on religion but specifically excluded Muslims?

Mr Brazier : Again, I have discussed that matter with the Indian high commissioner twice. The way you've characterised it there, I understand that that is the way it has been portrayed. But the Indian government's position is that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act fast-tracks eligibility for citizenship for a number of religious minorities from three neighbouring Muslim countries—that is, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Again, the Indian government asserts very clearly that for Muslims who have moved to India, their right to seek citizenship is not affected by this legislation.

Senator WATERS: Are we concerned by the prospect of stateless Indian Muslims if the new Citizenship (Amendment) Act is used in conjunction with the National Register of Citizens? Have we made our concerns clear?

Mr Brazier : Well, the National Register of Citizens has only been conducted in one state—Assam, in the north-east of the country. Prime Minister Modi said recently that ministers had not contemplated conducting that nationally.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. I will put some more questions on notice about that, as I will about human rights abuses in the Philippines. Unfortunately, I am out of time. Can I confirm that DFAT has a standing arrangement with the Minerals Council of Australia to second a DFAT official to work in the Minerals Council of Australia?

Mr Sloper : Yes, we do have an ongoing arrangement with the Minerals Council of Australia.

Senator WATERS: Can you talk me through how that arrangement works? How is the secondee selected?

Mr Sloper : I'm talking off memory here because I don't have papers on this particular process with me. We have a relationship with a number of business organisations and others where we feel there's a common interest. We would normally advertise those positions internally through an expression of interest process. Based on that, we would assess the candidates and then put a recommendation to the relevant organisation. On some occasions, we might share a shortlist with them before making a final decision about who undertakes that secondment.

Senator WATERS: Okay. But the department makes the final selection, or does the Minerals Council?

Mr Sloper : That's normally the process, yes, because we're choosing somebody we think best fits with that particular organisation. On occasion, there might be a discussion or shortlist, but the delegation sits with the department.

Senator WATERS: What APS level are they?

Mr Sloper : I can't answer that question, but I can take it on notice for this particular position.

Ms Adamson : Typically, these secondments take place at EL1 or, very occasionally, EL2 level.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. If you could take on notice to check all of the historical—

Ms Adamson : Senator, I can tell you that that is what the answer is.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. How long has this arrangement been in place?

Mr Sloper : I will need to take that on notice. It's been in place for some years.

Senator WATERS: Who pays for the secondee?

Mr Sloper : That varies according to the organisation and the arrangement put in place. In some cases, the partner organisation would pay the salary during the secondment. On others, we do.

Senator WATERS: And for the Minerals Council specifically?

Mr Sloper : I can't recall.

Ms Adamson : We'll check. We can probably get back to you this afternoon on that.

Mr Sloper : I can take that on notice. I might be able to come back this afternoon.

Ms Adamson : It's relatively easily checked.

Senator WATERS: Thank you. Are there any guidelines governing the arrangement?

Mr Sloper : Guidelines in terms of their employment or guidelines in terms of conduct? I'm not sure.

Senator WATERS: Well, both. And confidentiality and not inappropriately sharing information. Any guidelines at all, really?

Mr Sloper : We wouldn't have specific guideline arrangements, but we have obligations placed on all our staff with regard to how they treat official information, the roles they play and APS conduct.

CHAIR: Last question.

Senator WATERS: No specific secondee. What is the benefit to the Commonwealth from such an arrangement with the Minerals Council? What sort of work do those secondees do?

Mr Sloper : Typically, in both the Minerals Council of Australia but also in other similar organisations where we have these arrangements, we work on issues where they intersect with trade and investment promotion, which is, as you would understand, a key part of our department's operations. We find the staff on return have a better understanding of the industries with which we work.

Senator WATERS: Any interaction with the global climate summit?

CHAIR: That was the last question. The committee will suspend until 3.47 pm.

Proceedings suspended from 15 : 30 to 15 : 47

CHAIR: I understand that officials have some extra information to provide to us. Who is going to kick off for us?

Mr Larsen : Senator Waters asked whether we would be able to table the letter from Ambassador Gillian Bird to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in 2015 concerning the Palestinian Authority's accession to the International Criminal Court. I will so table it.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Ms Merriman : Senator Waters asked a question about the commencement of the business secondment program with the Minerals Council of Australia. I can confirm that the first DFAT officer was seconded to the Minerals Council in September 2015. There have been three secondees in the period since then.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr Chittick : I have been contacted in the last couple of minutes by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to clarify DFAT's testimony at the last estimates with regard to questions put forward by Senator Wong in relation to the Brian Houston issue. I will read, if I can, from the transcript and seek to provide the clarification.

Senator WONG: Do they always watch you?

CHAIR: No, I think they watch you. Continue please.

Mr Chittick : Senator Wong asked:

Did you ever see any list of potential attendees which included his name?

Mr Green said no. Senator Wong, you then asked a follow-up, which was:

Secretary, that was a 'you' to the whole department?

The secretary responded:

That includes us, me, together.

I think the clarification that I would make, and the secretary may wish to add, is that that relates to DFAT staff in Australia. There would have been DFAT staff posted in our embassy in Washington who would have been aware of that because they were working on the visit. It was because of the arrangements made by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in relation to the organisation of PM visits. Our staff in Washington were, in effect, agents of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and do not share that type of information with DFAT in Australia.

Ms Adamson : I will be explicit. The questions that I answered then and this morning I answered to the best of my knowledge. Mr Chittick has made me aware of what he has just said only in the last five minutes.

Senator WONG: That's fine. Basically, those in the US knew?

Ms Adamson : Well, I think a subset of those in the US knew.

Senator WONG: Some of those in the US knew. Mr Larsen, would you mind not leaving? Senator Waters asked a number of questions in relation to the ICC matters. I understand from your answers that, put very simply—you'll say it much more precisely and elegantly, I'm sure—the current Australian government does not believe that those representing the Palestinian territories have jurisdiction of the court in relation to the Palestinian territories. Maybe you can explain our view.

Mr Larsen : There are a number of issues that would need to be considered by the International Criminal Court in addressing the question of whether an international crime has been committed under the statute—

Senator WONG: Sure.

Mr Larsen : in the territories. One of the issues would be, of course, the determination of what constitutes the territories of the State of Palestine. So that's one issue. Another issue, of course, is whether the International Criminal Court is competent to consider the question of crimes committed within the territories of the State of Palestine in circumstances where we would contend anyway that there is not a State of Palestine. We, as a state party to the International Criminal Court, would assert that we have an absolute right to maintain that position.

Senator WONG: So the government's position is the court doesn't have jurisdiction?

Mr Larsen : Correct.

Senator WONG: Well, the court could find that without us making an intervention. The court has jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction.

Mr Larsen : We would assert that that's not the case. The court is a servant of the parties. It's not a court erga omnes.

Senator WONG: I want to ask this question: there's an allegation of war crimes, correct?

Mr Larsen : A particular allegation?

Senator WONG: There are allegations of possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories.

Mr Larsen : There are assertions, yes.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to use the word 'allegation'. You want to call it an assertion. If the government's position is that for a particular legal reason the ICC shouldn't deal with this, where are you saying it should be dealt with?

Mr Larsen : Well, of course, it is absolutely the question that if we have a gross crime committed in any location, the desirable thing is for that gross crime to be dealt with, especially if it's a serious breach of international law. I think, however, there is also a question about the integrity of the international system and the integrity of a court such as the International Criminal Court. From an Australian perspective, we would certainly argue that something we wish to bring to the attention of the court in considering this matter is those jurisdictional concerns that we—

Senator WONG: I understand the argument. I am making a very practical point. You have assertions of potential war crimes. You are saying the government's position is that the ICC does not have jurisdiction. I'm saying to you: where do you say these issues should be dealt with?

Mr Larsen : Respectfully, that's not a question I can answer.

Senator WONG: But it's a policy question.

Mr Larsen : My view, and the government's view, is that the court is either competent to deal with the matter or it is not on the basis of its statute. The court may well find that it has competency. That is a matter for the court. But Australia, as a state party, is certainly entitled to put forward the view.

Senator WONG: You are not answering my question. You are responding to the legal proposition. I understand it. I'm not sure I agree with it, but I understand it. I'm making a different point. If we say you can't go here because you're not a state, what are we actually saying should occur if there are allegations of war crimes?

Mr Larsen : I think the evidence would suggest, obviously, that it is difficult to prosecute a war. There is only one judicial institution established that can look at war crimes.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Larsen : That is the International Criminal Court.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Larsen : But I think from the perspective of a state party, we have an entitlement as a state party to take a view—

Senator WONG: That is the same argument. But it's actually not, with respect, responsive. I understand the point you're making. I think your answer is there is nowhere else.

Mr Larsen : There is nowhere else extant. But you could create a new tribunal or jurisdiction if you wish.

Senator WONG: Let's return to aid, if I may. I put a particular proposition about why it is a sensible idea et cetera. You responded that there was a discussion about middle income countries. I found the figure, actually. Actually, my very good staff did. Please don't get him into trouble as a consequence of saying this. The DHoM to Indonesia, who is an extremely competent officer, was reported to have said, but it is a fact, to the conference that 160 million Indonesians had a per capita income considerably lower than the average income of 11.1 million Pacific islanders. I don't think we should get into a 'who's more deserving' argument, but I do think there's a reasonable point that there are still many Indonesians in need of assistance. President Jokowi described us as Indonesia's best friend. Surely it would be a good thing for the relationship if we didn't reduce our development assistance to them at a time when we want stronger ties with the region.

Ms Adamson : I think you are quoting Allaster Cox. I agree with you that he is a very good deputy head of mission. He has been a very strong ambassador as well. The point you make is one I agreed before the break, and that is that there are still people across the Indo Pacific region living in poverty, as we would say. The fact is there are hundreds of millions more, because of China's contribution to all of this principally, than there were even 10 or 20 years ago. That process continues. Ms Heckscher made the point that much of what we do—in fact, I'd like to think that all of what we do—through our development assistance program is done in strong partnership. Increasingly what we are hearing across South-East Asia is that our partners very much want us to help them with policy making functions and with technical support to underpin economic reform that may enable them to deal better with generating economic growth as populations continue to increase. So we're not unmindful at all of the point you make. Of course, it goes to relative priorities. As you say, President Jokowi described Australia as Indonesia's best friend. We demonstrate that in a wide variety of ways. Development assistance is part of that, and that continues to evolve.

Senator WONG: We cut their ODA over the period I described by 50 per cent or 51 per cent.

Ms Adamson : That's correct.

Senator WONG: I put it that it's not in our national interest to do that.

CHAIR: That's a policy issue.

Senator WONG: Sure. We reduced ODA to South-East Asia by 30 per cent. It wasn't in our national interest to do that either, was it? Vietnam, 50 per cent; Philippines, 45 per cent; Laos, 41 per cent; Cambodia, 33 per cent. All of them are ASEAN nations identified in the white paper as being a substantial priority for us. They are not the words; I think it was even stronger language.

Ms Adamson : South-East Asia, as I said this morning, is an area of very significant priority and interest for Australia and a significant part of our Indo Pacific engagement.

Senator WONG: Correct, and of profound significance. There we go. The Foreign policy white paper states:

Southeast Asia … is of profound significance for our future.

Ms Adamson : Precisely.

Senator WONG: Well, then why are we reducing our engagement via development assistance?

Senator Payne: We're not reducing our engagement.

Senator WONG: Is it really the government's assertion? I can understand people at the table saying that's all we could get through the budget process and there is insufficient support across government for this. But in this portfolio, surely nobody is actually asserting that there's no effect on bilateral relationships or our regional standing or our regional relationships from this sort of reduction to South-East Asia.

Senator Payne: I think this goes to some of the commentary I have seen in recent times about these issues. I do think it is simplistic and a very narrow lens. I think it does not appreciate the very significant changes and developments not just in the region but in our relationships with the region. If you had said to someone in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or, frankly, to someone in this parliament even 12 years ago that Australia would be in a position to be developing a comprehensive and strategic partnership with Indonesia developing a bilateral trade arrangement of the depth and breadth of the Australia-Indonesia comprehensive economic partnership agreement, the AICEPA, and—

Senator WONG: How much more?

Senator Payne: The visit from—

Senator WONG: How much more are you going to allow them to cut?

Senator Payne: President Widodo. May I finish?

Senator WONG: Sure.

Senator Payne: The visit, as you have quoted yourself, involving President Widodo's description of Australia, was, I think, a very important marker of where our relationship lies. The significant other aspects underneath that visit are part of the CEP and—I really hate this word, but I'm going to use it—operationalising the partnership in that way. They cover a wide range of aspects of policy and portfolio engagement. So I do think it is simplistic to only talk about these issues through this narrow lens.

Senator WONG: How much more do you think we can cut? How much more are you going to allow them to cut? There was a period, Senator Payne, where there was bipartisanship around increasing ODA and around levels of ODA. This government has continued to reduce ODA and now has had to engage in Pacific Step-up, which is a good thing. But it's funding that through reducing development assistance to countries with whom we need the deepest and strongest relationships. I understand the position you've been put in. Surely you can't sit here as foreign minister and say, 'Well, it really doesn't matter.'

Senator Payne: What I said was that discussing this issue—and there are a whole range of views around spending on ODA—

Senator WONG: Sure. I understand that. There are people in your party who think it's a bad thing.

Senator Payne: There are a whole range of views in Australia.

Senator WONG: Sure. I understand. But there are some things which are not just about domestic politics.

Senator Payne: I appreciate that. I think that's really the point I'm making, actually.

Senator WONG: It was a good thing when Ms Bishop and the coalition for a period had bipartisanship. We do know there are people, some in the parliament and some more broadly, who want to play nationalist politics with this issue. But there's a national interest in sensible people in parties of government understanding why this is important.

Senator Payne: I was going to say that our focus—and it has been our focus for some time—is about building the sort of longstanding and contemporary partnerships that reflect the current environment in our region and more broadly. We work incredibly closely with our partner governments to ensure that what development assistance we provide is spent in line with their priorities, their national interests and in the interests of the region. As I said in my previous remarks—you may choose to disagree—these partnerships extend a long way these days in 2020 beyond just our development funding. I think it's best to characterise the way we work with our partners as based on the whole of the relationship—their economic position, their national priorities. I know that you don't agree with the amount of funds that the government contributes in relation to ODA, but we think it is responsible, it is affordable, it is deliverable by Australia and it is very focused so that we are aiming at those areas where we can make a difference where we have the largest stakes.

Senator WONG: As foreign minister, are you comfortable with funding a step-up in the Pacific with a stepdown in South-East Asia?

Senator Payne: I absolutely disagree with your characterisation of that. I absolutely disagree. Whether it is in Indonesia or Vietnam, indeed in the Philippines, I can point to countless examples of development in the relationships which go a very long way past your characterisation as a stepdown.

Senator WONG: How many more cuts?

Senator Payne: We have indicated that we will maintain our ODA above that $4 billion mark, as we indicated in the 2018-19 budget. We consider, as I said, that to be responsible, to be affordable, to be deliverable by Australia.

Senator WONG: Can you guarantee or confirm that the resumption of indexation in 2021 will occur?

Senator Payne: The date that is scheduled for resumption of indexation will be the date, yes.

Senator WONG: I'm asking for you to give that commitment?

Senator Payne: I said yes.

Senator WONG: What are the current levels of ODA being provided in South-East Asia for various other OECD countries? Can you also tell me what China's current aid spend in South-East Asia is? What is India's current aid spend in South-East Asia? What is the trend of these figures?

Senator Payne: Can we take that on notice?

Senator WONG: Are you able to give me anything?

Ms Heckscher : I would need to take that on notice. I will defer to a development specialist. I think that China doesn't count its assistance in the same kind of way as other ODA countries do.

Senator WONG: Sure. Comparability.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And then you have to divide between what is actually a grant as opposed to a loan. I think you would need to be very careful to ensure that that distinction is properly provided.

Senator Payne: The CFO has reminded me our indication on recommencement of indexation is 2022-23, just to be clear.

Senator WONG: 2022-23?

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: I thought it was 2021-22.

Senator Payne: No. It is 2022-23.

Senator WONG: That's what you've been advised? It's 2022-23.

Mr Venugopal : Yes. It is 2022-23.

Senator WONG: When was that decision taken?

Mr Venugopal : I'm pretty sure. I'll have to check that and come back to you. It was definitely part of either the 2018-19 MYEFO or the 2018-19 budget.

Senator Payne: We discussed that last time.

Senator WONG: Okay.

Senator Payne: We discussed that last time.

Senator WONG: 2022-23. So that's the thing you've guaranteed.

Senator Payne: I get confused with that and the two per cent of GDP—

Senator WONG: Correct. That's what you've guaranteed.

Senator Payne: in defence spending. And the timings. I'm sorry.

Senator WONG: My mistake as well. I think Senator Ayres is going to jump in briefly.

Senator AYRES: I have some questions about DFAT employees, APS values and employment principles, the APS code of conduct and the conduct and ethics manual. I don't know whether there's anybody who can help you with this line of questioning, Secretary. I assume those policies apply equally to those representing Australia in an official capacity overseas, including ambassadors and high commissioners?

Ms Adamson : They do.

Senator AYRES: I don't think there are surprises about where this line of questioning leads. Just for clarity, would it contravene guidelines for Australian diplomatic officials to make public comments that are political comments in a foreign domestic political context?

Ms Adamson : As always, we talk in terms of broad principles. In broad principles, yes. Inevitably, when we talk about individual situations, it's good to talk about individual situations because you either agree on the application of the broad principles or you do not.

Senator AYRES: I will try to narrow it down because I expect the answer to that is it depends on context and it depends upon whether it's been approved.

Ms Adamson : Which is effectively what I'm saying. But let's go to the specifics.

Senator AYRES: But is it inappropriate for a department official to reflect positively or negatively on the elevation of a particular person to a position of leadership with a foreign political party or upon the victory of one party over another in a foreign nation's elections?

Ms Adamson : Again, it would depend on whether that was partisan, if I could say so, or whether it was simply an observation about a fact. Social media, I would have to say—

Senator AYRES: I have one last general point before I ask about the specific one. The department would have sanctioned or counselled officials previously for violating the policies or making those kinds of statements, wouldn't it?

Ms Adamson : Again, I tread carefully here. The age of social media has made some of these things rather more complex than they once were. We do take very seriously our responsibilities as an able Public Service. That goes for people overseas as well.

Senator AYRES: So at the time of Mr Johnson's election as Conservative Party leader and consequently to the Prime Ministership, the Australian high commissioner, Mr Brandis, was reported—I don't think it's been contradicted—by the Sydney Morning Herald as very enthusiastically telling an audience at the UK policy exchange. This is what he is quoted as saying:

One of the reasons I'm enthusiastic—

I'm not quite sure I can do Mr Brandis's quote justice really. He said:

"One of the reasons I'm enthusiastic about Boris Johnson's prime ministership is because if there was ever a cometh-the-hour, cometh-the-man moment in the recent history of this country, this is it and he is that person…

He went on to gushingly claim:

"Because that spirit of optimism that just drips from him is precisely it seems to me—

he qualifies by saying—

looking with the eyes of an outsider—

And then goes on to say, I think slightly spookily:

the corrective that this country needs attitudinally."

Does the department accept that this public endorsement could be seen to reflect Australia's official position given that Mr Brandis's role isn't a junior role; he is the high commissioner?

Ms Adamson : What can I say?

Senator Payne: Would you like to read it without the editorialising.

Ms Adamson : Australian governments of any political persuasion are always generous in welcoming the election of counterparts in other countries.

Senator AYRES: Certainly.

Ms Adamson : Whatever political party they belong to. It's important for our international relations that we be seen to be even-handed. I have observed with particular reference to the United Kingdom, including close up and personal during two postings to London, that where there is an alignment, if I can put it that way, between the party which has posted a high commissioner of a non-career kind to London and the government in London, there seems to be a particular warmth between the two of them. Naturally, we always expect our high commissioners to be able to represent our country faithfully no matter who is elected Prime Minister or whatever the party is in the UK. Equally, my observation has been, having worked with Neal Blewett, during his term as high commissioner in the 1990s, and then with Richard Alston, during his term in the 2000s, is that both of them have managed to do that.

Senator AYRES: They have, yes. But this is a problem, isn't it?

Ms Adamson : Well, I'm sure high commissioner Brandis is aware of his responsibilities as high commissioner. In fact, I know that he is because I also know that he is very active in working, as any head of mission should, across the political aisle in his country of accreditation. So from that point of view he is doing what I would expect a head of mission to do.

Senator AYRES: Have you spoken to him about that set of comments?

Ms Adamson : I've not spoken to him about that precise set of comments, no.

Senator AYRES: Because there are more, of course.

CHAIR: I'm sure he was supportive of Jeremy Corbyn as well.

Senator AYRES: It just goes on and on and on. Yes, he certainly had a bit to say about Mr Johnson's opponent. Has Mr Brandis been counselled? I appreciate that you say you haven't spoken to him in relation to those particular comments. Has he been counselled about his approach to political commentary?

Ms Adamson : Before all heads of mission depart overseas, career or non-career, they come and see me. We have a discussion about the government's expectations of them in the role and what I personally expect of them, including those I directly supervise.

Senator AYRES: So you have raised it with him?

Ms Adamson : I have.

Senator WONG: In the context of the general?

Ms Adamson : In the context of the general, yes, of course. With any head of mission going out, we have a conversation about a whole range of things—their responsibilities, the particular challenges and what I expect of them across the breadth of their responsibilities. I would not think that anyone who embarks on the journey across to their country of accreditation would be in any doubt about what is expected.

Senator AYRES: I appreciate your comments about Mr Blewett and Mr Alston because there is a contrast. Appointments of that kind have to be made very carefully. There are a range of other political appointments that have been made to very important partners overseas. Is there a 'jobs for the boys' problem in terms of our overseas appointments at the moment? Are there more of these kinds of appointments at the moment?

Ms Adamson : I am tempted simply to—

CHAIR: I think that's not a question for the secretary, because they are government appointments.

Senator AYRES: Is there a cultural problem? As you indicated, Mr Brandis's appointment is not the first of these kinds of appointments over a very long time. There are many of these kinds of appointments at the moment. Does that create a culture problem for the department in terms of being able to manage these kinds of outbursts of partisan enthusiasm from people like Mr Brandis?

Ms Adamson : I want to be clear—I will come to what you have just asked—about what I was saying before about high commissioner Blewett and high commissioner Alston. One expects, as a career diplomat, as I have been, a natural warmth where there's a political alignment. But the real test for me is how effectively they can work across the aisle, as it were. How much time are they spending down at the House of Commons talking to politicians of all political parties? The answer is that Australian high commissioners down the decades have done that and done it very effectively. When there is a change of government, as there sometimes is during a term, they know that they have to be credible with both sides of politics. They typically attend—I know that high commissioner Brandis has done this—the party conferences of the main political parties, as many as there may be in the UK at the time. I think you have to look at it in that broad context. I certainly understand what you are saying. Obviously, as much as we can possibly do it, we want everyone to be professional at all times. In relation to what you've just said, it may be improper, but I can't avoid the opportunity to say that 43 per cent of career heads of mission at the moment are women.

Senator AYRES: Yes. It's noticeable.

Senator WONG: I think his 'jobs for the boys' statement was a political reference.

Ms Adamson : I said I couldn't avoid it.

Senator WONG: We could go through them.

Ms Adamson : I know what you're saying.

Senator WONG: There are a lot of Liberal blokes who've got a lot of positions. Some of them are high profile. Have we got Mr Ciobo still?

CHAIR: And Mr Beazley never got into trouble.

Ms Adamson : Exactly. We are delighted that high commissioner Forsythe was appointed. My point is simply that on the career side, fifty-fifty—if not, why not—is alive and well.

Senator AYRES: Absolutely a point well made. At 43 per cent, yes, that is excellent. Would you be able to provide us on notice with a list of all political appointments to heads of mission and special envoys since September 2013?

Ms Adamson : Yes. We can do that.

Senator AYRES: Thank you.

Senator WONG: On this, I wasn't going to go, because of time, to the Barr inquiry issues as much. I would like to make the point that some comments were made by former ambassador Hockey, only recently, on 10 February, in which he asserted that Mr Downer's actions threatened Australia's involvement in the Five Eyes intelligence network. Did you see those comments, Secretary?

Ms Adamson : I did see those comments.

Senator WONG: We have been quite careful. I have been careful here because I do respect you about asking certain questions. I have to say that I looked at that and I thought, 'Well, it seems remarkable that a former US Ambassador and political appointment would make such a comment in public when you, as secretary of DFAT, have urged me and others to be responsible in the questions we are asking let alone any answers given.'

Ms Adamson : Let me just say that when I read those comments, I did not recognise them as accurate. Maybe they were misreported. By that stage, Mr Hockey had completed his term and had left the department. They do not match my understanding of the situation at all.

Senator WONG: Do you think the comments were appropriate for somebody who had so recently been a senior representative of Australia?

CHAIR: Like the secretary just said, the comments as reported didn't reflect what was actually said.

Senator WONG: Sure. Didn't reflect what was said. No.

Ms Adamson : What I said was—

Senator AYRES: No. I don't think she said that.

Ms Adamson : the comments as reported were not an accurate reflection of the situation.

Senator WONG: So he got it wrong?

Ms Adamson : They are slightly ambiguous. There has been no damage to Five Eyes cooperation. I know that Mr Hockey would know that, so my assumption was that he was misreported.

Senator WONG: Has anyone spoken to Mr Hockey about those comments?

Ms Adamson : He has left the service.

Senator WONG: Is it appropriate for former officials and heads of mission to comment on matters that are so sensitive that they have contact with or they have knowledge of because of the privileged and responsible position they've previously held?

Ms Adamson : I suppose that's the point. It was just so far from the truth that my assumption was that he hadn't made those remarks. They were reported once. I think they might have been reported twice. They were not picked up and given a great deal of prominence. It was my own conclusion that that was not a credible view or a credible report.

Senator WONG: There you go. It was the media. Joe was a bit sloppy again. The problem is the sloppiness might actually have an effect on our relationship.

CHAIR: Enough editorialising.

Senator WONG: Okay. It was inaccurate; that's the evidence. But the risk is, obviously, that his inaccuracies—

CHAIR: I thought the evidence was the reporting.

Senator WONG: That was her assumption, which I've let go. No-one has actually checked with him what he said or asked him not to say stuff like that.

CHAIR: And you want to believe the worst and we don't.

Senator WONG: No. He is reported directly—it's a direct quote—as saying that there is an effect on the Five Eyes relationship. Officials and senior politicians are extremely careful about comments that they make about the Five Eyes relationships publicly. I think it is unwise to have a person who was very recently Australia's ambassador to the US making such a comment. I would have thought that most of the community would agree with that.

CHAIR: Thank you for your opinion. Do you have a question?

Senator WONG: I do have a question on the bipartisan Pacific visits. Senator Payne, you might be aware that there have been over time a range of bipartisan visits to the Pacific attended by politicians from both parties of government, depending on who is in government, obviously, at various levels. I think Mr Miles went with Ms Bishop when he was the parliamentary secretary and she was the shadow foreign minister. I think Senator Fierravanti-Wells and I and Senator Moore and Ms Bishop went on two bipartisan visits.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I went with Senator Moore.

Senator WONG: There were some additional ones that Senator Fierravanti-Wells and Senator Moore went on. I don't think it's unremarkable to say that I think those visits were very well received. Secretary, would you agree with that assessment?

Ms Adamson : That was certainly my hearing at the time. I didn't have the pleasure of accompanying on any of them. I know bipartisanship across—

Senator WONG: Ms Bishop didn't want you to do the girls on tour? I think that was one of her press secretary's hashtags, which I did not pick up.

Ms Adamson : I do recall there were some good tweets and photographs from those visits. I think the broader and more important point is that bipartisanship generally is valued across the Pacific. I know that we've continued to be able to demonstrate that in a variety of ways, whether it has to do with election monitoring or committee visits. I'm sure that Ms Klugman will have more detail on it. My sense is that, notwithstanding those particular visits are not necessarily happening in that way any more, nevertheless bipartisanship is alive and well.

Senator WONG: Is that the decision of the government, is it?

Ms Adamson : It's not happening in that way.

Senator WONG: I'm going to ask Senator Payne. Are you looking to continue that tradition?

Senator Payne: I haven't really turned my mind to it. One of the things that we have been—

Senator WONG: We've raised it with you.

Senator Payne: I haven't turned my mind to it actively.

Senator WONG: I'm glad to know that the things we raise with you really go to the top of the list. This has been raised for some time, including with your junior minister, by Mr Conroy. We genuinely think it's a good thing. You might like to invite Senator Fierravanti-Wells to put her view. I think it was extremely well received, in part because, as the secretary said, bipartisanship is a very powerful message to the Pacific, no matter who is in government. We all care about the relationship.

Senator Payne: I was never a participant in the previous activities. One of the things that we have been very focused on doing is ensuring that we have had very strong bipartisan groups visiting the Pacific in all of our election observations, Anzac Day and Christchurch memorial services and a number of things like that. I know current and former colleagues of yours and Senator Ayres, and current and former colleagues of mine and members of the government who are part of this committee have participated in all of those. I think that is important. I haven't specifically turned my mind—I apologise for not having done that—to reinstituting a previous tradition. I'm certainly not doing everything that was done by previous ministers. I don't intend to.

Senator WONG: No. I want to finish off. I think it's a good thing to have bipartisan visits by parliamentarians and election monitoring et cetera. Those visits continue. These are visits which I think Mr Downer undertook, that certainly Mr Miles and Ms Bishop undertook when we were in government and that Ms Bishop organised when she was foreign minister. I put to you that it is a very strong indication from very senior levels on both sides to Pacific island nations that there is a commitment to the relationship. It's a matter for you. I think it's a very useful or constructive way to engage with our neighbours. As I said, Senator Fierravanti-Wells obviously engaged in a bipartisan way with her counterpart in similar sorts of visits.

Senator Payne: Thanks.

Senator FAWCETT: I just want to put on the record that the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, with the support of the government, is sending each of the committees each year into the Pacific on a bipartisan basis around defence, human rights, trade and foreign aid. That's an active program. The next visit for two of the subcommittees, in fact, is due in late April.

Senator Payne: An initiative I strongly support.

Ms Adamson : Chair, with your agreement, I want to confirm the advice that our chief finance officer gave in relation to the question about the resumption of indexation. It is indeed from 2022-23. I think we're all clear about that. He wasn't sure whether it was MYEFO or the 2018-19 budget. It was in fact—he has asked me to confirm this—the 2018-19 budget rather than the MYEFO.

Senator WONG: I have a couple of questions on China. I am conscious that Senator Payne is going to be leaving so I want to do a few things while she's still here. We had a discussion on the last occasion—I can't recall which officer—in relation to the Prime Minister's labelling of China as a 'newly developed country'. I think DFAT confirmed that it had not advocated a change of China's designation as a developing country within the WTO. I think we had a conversation at that time about the process being one of self-designation. I want to confirm that in terms of decision making for a new category, which is what a newly developing nation or similar would be, that would have to be, firstly, undertaken or achieved by the agreement or consensus of members of the WTO themselves. Correct?

Mr Mina : The different categories remain extant. The question of self-designation also remains the normal practice. So there's no attempt to change classifications at the WTO by any member at the moment.

Senator WONG: Do the current categories include the category that the PM used—newly developed country?

Mr Mina : There's no category that is precisely using those words. There is a shift, of course, by some countries—and several have in the last few months, in fact—to nominate themselves at the WTO as no longer developing countries. That indicates that they have taken on—

Senator WONG: The Prime Minister said China should be a newly developed country. We're not actually advocating the WTO for that. If the WTO were going to agree it a new category of that type, that would have to be agreed within WTO members, correct, including China?

Mr Mina : It's probably not correct to describe it in that form. We are urging, as we have always urged, countries to shift up, if you like, the categorisation. There's no 'newly developed' category in prospect.

Senator WONG: There is self-designation. That is my second point.

Mr Mina : There's self-designation. There's also—

Senator WONG: Mr Mina, let's do this in order. There are two concepts. What are the categories? There is no category including newly developed or similar. We are not advocating for that. Correct?

Mr Mina : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Mr Mina : Although we are advocating for a shift for several countries.

Senator WONG: You've said that. But that's not a new category. That is a shift from one category to another.

Mr Mina : Well, it's just that there is, of course, the capacity for some countries to newly anoint themselves as developed countries.

Senator WONG: Secondly, the decision as to moving from one category to another from developing to developed—let's make it binary for the purposes of this discussion—is a self-designation?

Mr Mina : At present, correct.

Senator WONG: Perhaps I'll give you the opportunity to tell me. What action have we taken as a result of the assertion by Mr Morrison that China should be a newly developed country?

Mr Mina : There are two streams of action that we've taken. They are consistent with the long-term trend in Australian policy. They've been both amplified in recent months. The first is to encourage those countries—we had a good exchange on this last time, I think—who are growing and benefiting from the global rules based trading system to make commitments commensurate with that growth. That includes China. So we are urging restraint and respect of their use of special and differential treatment. The second stream of activity, led very much by the United States very publicly, is to encourage countries themselves to nominate that they will no longer use developing country status.

Senator WONG: Have we put that? That's been our position to China?

Mr Mina : Not in relation to China. But the first, absolutely. The first stream of activity, absolutely in relation to China.

Senator WONG: But not the second?

Mr Mina : The second stream of activity, we have not specifically in relation to the current negotiations sought that China self-nominate, if you like, not to use developing country status. We have, however, asked them in the electronic commerce negotiations and in the fish subsidies negotiations that are underway to take a very restrained approach to the access to special and differential treatment.

Senator WONG: Okay. That's interesting, isn't it? I think that was your evidence before. Or maybe Senator Birmingham and I have had a conversation. Anyway, we've had a conversation about the Australian negotiating position being to exhort China not to in some areas obtain the 'full benefit', as it were—I use that in inverted commas—of status as a developing nation. I think what you are saying to me is that at no stage have we actually put to China that they should self-designate as a developed nation.

Mr Mina : Well, I think the Prime Minister's remarks themselves speak for themselves on that point.

Senator WONG: I am asking you. Do you have instructions to do that as a negotiator and/or can you point me to anywhere where we have done so?

Mr Mina : Speaking as a negotiator and for our negotiators in the two negotiations I have mentioned, what I think we discussed last time is that the whole practice of self-designation is one we are not challenging.

Senator WONG: But there is a difference. Mr Mina, I'm not asking you whether we are changing the practice on opposition to the practice of self-designation. I'm asking whether we have said, after the Prime Minister's comments, 'China, we would urge you to self-designate as a developed nation.'

Mr Mina : I would need to go back and check on the individual circumstances of particular negotiations whether we've actually asked for such a shift.

Senator WONG: Do you understand, Secretary, that we have actually sought that?

Ms Adamson : We have certainly at the highest levels had discussions with the Chinese about this issue following the Prime Minister's speech in a—how can I put this?—constructive way backwards and forwards. One of the points the Prime Minister made was that China has been very successful in its economic growth.

Senator WONG: I've asked a pretty specific question, Secretary.

Ms Adamson : You have. It's not quite as black and white as that.

Senator WONG: But the political assertion made by the Prime Minister was that China should be considered newly developed. I'm asking whether we've actually asked them to self-designate as developed.

Ms Adamson : Not explicitly in the WTO, but we have explained why—

Senator WONG: So was the speech just political spin?

Ms Adamson : Please, Senator. We have explained, though, why the Prime Minister has explained why he used that phrase. As I recall saying last time, he has put his finger on something which is real. It's the precise application in a range of international fora. It's not yet been dealt with in that way. Ultimately, I think it will be.

Senator WONG: I can't recall if I asked you about this. I can't remember the dates. The Prime Minister met with the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the EAS—

Ms Adamson : Yes, he did.

Senator WONG: in Bangkok. We did talk about this, or he did. Were issues relating to China's status as a newly developed country raised in that meeting?

Ms Adamson : I would have to think very carefully about that. I know they were raised in the discussion with the Chinese Vice President in the margins of President Widodo's inauguration in Jakarta. I think they were also touched on in a meeting at the annual leaders meeting dialogue in Bangkok. Certainly they've been talked about with China. I wouldn't say they're a feature of absolutely every conversation. But we've explained what we mean. Ultimately, I think, we do want to see them as a developed country. They've made very significant progress towards that even though, of course, there are still parts of China, which speaks to your points about Indonesia as well, where incomes are very, very low.

Senator WONG: Correct. You might have told me this. What is the Chinese response to the Prime Minister's speech and to the prospect of being labelled or self-designated as a newly developed country?

Ms Adamson : Well, the Chinese see themselves as having made substantial strides in their development, obviously, including doubling incomes over the last 10 years. They are still inclined to describe themselves as a developing country because parts of this enormous economy and enormous country have very low incomes and are developing by any standard. But, at the same time, I think they are increasingly thoughtful, at least in private, at the officials level, about how their progress should be described. I think there's no easy label for it, in a way. I personally think that newly developed is not too far from the reality. For a whole range of reasons, including because of China's close relationship with the G77 in a number of UN fora, China sees itself very much as a leader of the developing world and a significant contributor to south-south cooperation.

Senator WONG: Correct. I think at the last estimates, Secretary, you talked about your efforts to engage the business community on the China relationship.

Ms Adamson : I do recall that discussion.

Senator WONG: I think at that stage there had been four dialogues as at October 2019. Can you tell me whether there have been any more since then? Can you provide me on notice a list?

Ms Adamson : I will. I can tell you that I have done one in Sydney since then. I'm sure one of my colleagues will be quickly off the mark to remind me of the date. I think it was in December, but I could be wrong about that. Julianne Merriman knows. I've done one in Sydney, and I'm currently planning another one in Perth.

Ms Merriman : I can confirm that there was a meeting of that dialogue on 12 December 2019 in Sydney.

Senator WONG: Do members of the intelligence community attend any of them?

Ms Adamson : Sometimes they do. Almost invariably, Stephanie Fahey, my counterpart at Austrade, the CEO, joins me. On occasions, Nick Warner has joined me. Sometimes our ambassador for cyber affairs and emerging technologies joins me as well. It depends a bit. Often we do have a senior member of the intelligence community with me.

Senator WONG: I wonder if someone can explain to me why they think it's sensible—I think I've asked this before—to hold such dialogues with the business community, which I support. Why does the government continue to insist that similar types of briefings and discussions should not occur with the parliament? It is a question for you, Senator Payne. You've said you're not convinced. I put this to you. You've got the benefit of engagement with the business community. You've had ONI say, clearly, they thought it would be of benefit. I think commentators, including Professor Metcalfe, whose book you launched with me, has made the same point. You've said previously you're not convinced. Have you thought about it again?

Senator Payne: Senator, the government's view, which I believe I've put on the record here at estimates before, is that there are a number of existing mechanisms through the parliamentary processes. The committee processes, including some of which you've been a member and some others of which of your colleagues in shadow cabinet are, provide that sort of information and briefing. It's the government's view that that is an appropriate approach.

Senator WONG: You've seen the ASIO DG's inaugural threat assessment of 24 February 2020. He talks about parliamentarians and their staff at all levels being a potential target for foreign interference generally. It is not specifically about any one nation. Do those sorts of advice from ASIO and ONI really not change the government's view? It does risk looking quite partisan around an issue which I think shouldn't be partisan and which I think would benefit the parliament.

Senator Payne: You and I don't agree on this matter. I respect and value the observations of people like Mr Burgess in his recent threat analysis. Of course I do. But you and I don't agree on this matter.

Senator WONG: You could look at some of the things that are said by members of parliament and senators that you have to deal with in the context of, for example, the China relationship. Surely there would be some merit in having some bipartisan understanding about the relationship more deeply held across the board.

Senator Payne: I think across the breadth of the parliamentary committees, whether it's the committee Senator Fawcett chairs, this committee, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and the number of others which receive a range of briefings, there is a positive approach on this. We have a range of initiatives in the countering foreign interference and influence space, of which you would also be aware. They are part of our approach.

Senator WONG: Sometimes things are better when they are not partisan. I reckon a bit of information to the parliament might be helpful. Secretary, what do you talk to the business community about in your strategic dialogues?

Ms Adamson : What we talk about collectively, I suppose, is how we each see the world. What I've observed over the last couple of years or so when I've been doing this is that the business community at senior levels—at the level of chairman, chairwoman and CEO—increasingly sees the world in very similar terms to us. We talk about risks. We talk about geopolitical shifts. Cyber is a real concern for the business community. You just mentioned it's not focused on any one country. It's focused on opportunities for Australian business in the world and how to take advantage of those new markets, diversification and a wide range of issues. What there is, I think, is a business community in Australia that is increasingly aware of the important shifts, challenges and changes in opportunities in the broader world.

Senator WONG: Obviously, I presume, the information provided is not classified.

Ms Adamson : We conduct this dialogue essentially on a Chatham house basis, and we choose our words carefully.

Senator WONG: But you have had intelligence community members present. Are they participating?

Ms Adamson : Yes. But they do not speak at a classified level.

Senator WONG: I'm sure. But a lot can be explained to people in a non-classified environment.

Ms Adamson : It's not so much an explanation. It is a dialogue between people who have shared interests in our security and prosperity.

Senator WONG: I think Dr Lee was asked this by someone else, which was the audit of Australia's participation in multilateral organisations. Did I miss timeframes? Who's conducting it? Who will it be given to?

Ms Adamson : Not exactly. DFAT is leading on this and consulting widely across government. I said work was pretty far advanced but that I couldn't give it because I haven't—

Senator WONG: Do you have—

Ms Adamson : a precise timeline.

Senator WONG: Sorry. Do you have a time by which you are supposed to report to government?

Ms Adamson : Imminently.

Senator WONG: Imminently. Is the report to the Foreign Minister?

Ms Adamson : In the first instance, we'll be reporting to the foreign minister.

Senator WONG: Who can tell me about the soft power review?

Senator Payne: What do you want to know?

Senator WONG: This was announced by Minister Bishop in August 2018. You told me at the last estimates public consultations finished, I think, in October 2018. Is that right? When will it be completed?

Mr Geering : We have been working, as you know, on the soft power review for some time during the course of the last year.

Senator WONG: I think that's a bit of an understatement, but that's okay.

Mr Geering : We are close to finalising it. We have a draft, but it has not yet been given to government for consideration.

Senator WONG: Did a draft or drafts go to the minister's office?

Mr Geering : No.

Senator WONG: Previous drafts?

Mr Geering : No.

Senator WONG: Has it had to be fully rewritten?

Mr Geering : It's been a document that has been through various iterations.

Senator WONG: Why? It seems to have taken a very long time. What are the issues impeding its finalisation?

Ms Adamson : Perhaps I can speak to that. In the sense in which you are asking the question, there's no single issue or issues impeding the finalisation of this. I think I've spoken previously—and my colleagues have—about the great deal of interest that is generated and the fact that expectations had been raised, clearly. Australia clearly has a tremendous amount of soft power. Precisely how we frame this and describe it ultimately will be a decision for the minister. How she wants it done and how she wants it published is still to be decided. We've made pretty good progress. We wanted to work through with the minister's office in the first instance the form it might take, recognising that there's an enormous amount of good work to draw on. Since then, of course, we've had bushfires and now coronavirus. I have to say that we are finding it difficult as a department to come up with something that we think absolutely hits the mark. But we're very confident that the broad work is useful to government. We will, before we actually send a completed review to the minister, have a bit more work to do in terms of how we land it. As I think about it, and I do, it's a bit tricky right now at this moment with Australia in the world to see the best place to do that. It is about if anybody is listening. Right now, minds are very much focused on other things.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that. Public consultation finished one year and five months ago, in October 2018, didn't it?

Ms Adamson : I think we were still meeting through to the end of 2018 and possibly even early into 2019. Still, I would say obviously we haven't landed it. Who's that down to? It's down to the department, because we have this wealth of fabulous material. We just have to work out how best to present it, describe it and have it be a useful document in a world that's changed a bit since we started this exercise.

Senator WONG: I want to turn to ODA funding and the development policy review. Ministers Payne and Hawke announced in December 2019 that the government is preparing a new international development policy. It might be entitled how to do more with less.

Ms Adamson : That's not the way I ever think of it.

Senator WONG: Sorry. As part of that, you're taking submissions and have appointed an expert panel.

Ms Adamson : That's correct.

Senator WONG: What is the role of the expert panel?

Ms Peak : The role of the expert panel is to advise both the department and Minister Payne and Minister Hawke about the review.

Senator WONG: What issues is the review addressing?

Ms Peak : The review is addressing the entire development program. It will address both the policy issues as well as the performance framework.

Senator WONG: So structure, policy and implementation—the whole gamut of issues?

Ms Peak : Correct.

Senator WONG: Remind me. You did release it, I think. Who is the expert panel?

Ms Peak : Yes. I can give you the names, if it's helpful.

Senator WONG: Dennis Richardson is leading. Correct?

Ms Peak : He's the chair.

Senator WONG: How many on the expert panel?

Ms Peak : Six.

Senator WONG: Remind me of the names. I'm sorry. I've just momentarily forgotten.

Ms Peak : In addition to Mr Richardson, there's Mr James Batley, Ms Catherine Walker, Ms Lynda Cheng, Jane Prentice and Jack de Groot, the CEO of St Vincent de Paul.

Senator WONG: Is it intended that the panel produce a report? We've got policy development and an expert panel. Can you tell me, or have you not worked out yet, what the products will be?

Ms Peak : It's not intended that the panel will produce a separate report. The panel is engaged in a wide range of consultations and will provide their advice to the ministers and to the department.

Senator WONG: There must be some product that is the mechanism by which any policy decisions would be made. What are you envisaging at this stage?

Ms Peak : We anticipate that the panel will provide us with verbal advice. We haven't asked them to produce any written report.

Senator WONG: But the government is going to make decisions subsequently about the whole of the aid program, which I think is what is proposed. Is that right, Secretary?

Ms Adamson : In terms of policy, yes.

Senator WONG: What are you envisaging as the mechanism for that? There's not a public report. Sorry, did you need to speak to the minister before she goes?

Ms Adamson : No. We've finished, I think.

CHAIR: As we are changing ministers at the table, can I just indicate—I think I omitted it at the afternoon tea—that we'll continue with this segment through until the dinner break at 6.30 pm and then move on to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade programs after the dinner break. Welcome, Minister Birmingham. Can I confirm: you have no opening statement?

Senator Birmingham: No.

CHAIR: Good.

Senator WONG: I think I had a question. I just want to know how it will be given effect. You have an expert panel that will give you advice. Have you turned your mind to a new international development policy? Is there simply a cabinet submission, or are you likely to have a policy paper with ideas that is then circulated more publicly? I'm trying to get a sense of the process. Are you in a position to talk me through that?

Ms Peak : Yes. At the moment, we're in the process of public consultations. We've done a number of those both with partner countries and with stakeholders around Australia. Following that process, we will produce a new policy document and a performance framework, which we will put to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Senator WONG: Timeframes?

Ms Peak : We are working towards a timeframe of mid year.

Senator WONG: This year?

Ms Peak : This year.

Senator WONG: So a policy framework which will be put to the minister?

Ms Peak : There's also a performance framework.

Senator WONG: And a performance framework. Is it going to go to quantum?

Ms Peak : No. Both Minister Payne and Minister Hawke have been very clear that two things that won't change in this policy process is the overall quantum of development assistance and our focus on the Indo Pacific.

Senator WONG: I'm sorry, Ms Peak. I might have been distracted. Are you proposing to go out for more formal public consultation on policy and performance frameworks prior to finalising that for the minister?

Ms Peak : We've engaged since 10 December in extensive consultations. We're not finished that yet. To give you a sense, Minister Hawke has led 12 public roundtables. The expert panel has participated in 17 public roundtables. We've had consultations with the expert panel with a number of government departments. In fact, they are in Canberra today consulting with other government departments. They have a number of conversations that we're setting up with stakeholders and governments in partner countries. The list goes on.

Senator WONG: One of the comments that has been made to me is that there are no terms of reference other than the qualitative descriptor in the minister's press releases for this review. Correct?

Ms Peak : That's right.

Senator WONG: So what are people responding to? In consultation, you often have some guidance, whether it's terms of reference or a document that sets out a range of propositions or issues that you want people to address. How are you guiding the consultation in relation to that?

Ms Peak : The Minister for Foreign Affairs as well as Minister Hawke issued a press release on 10 December which set out some of the contours of the policy.

Senator WONG: Is this the consultation document?

Ms Peak : We have asked stakeholders to either put in written comments or come to public consultations on the basis of their views on the development program. I think the media release provides some ideas on the topics.

Senator WONG: Well, it doesn't, really, with respect. I understand why you put that position. It's a press release that says we're:

… preparing a new international development policy to guide our support for a secure, stable, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific.

Then there's a description about global changes, new opportunities and challenges. It says:

The new policy will ensure Australia is positioned to effectively support our partners to respond to new and emerging priorities.

It says that it reflects Australian values et cetera. It doesn't really talk about implementation. It has some reference to economic infrastructure.    All I'm saying is that if you're going out to stakeholders, there are so many issues in this area, surely there might have been merit in some propositions, document or guidance to enable people to respond to particular issues around the aid program. I think what you're saying to me is there weren't.

Ms Peak : No. There were certainly no formal terms of reference. May I add one comment?

Senator WONG: Sure.

Ms Peak : As we've been to public consultations, for each one of them we have put certain questions to those participants.

Senator WONG: So you do have a standard set of questions?

Ms Peak : We've been tailoring them to each consultation, because they tend to be grouped in thematic groups, for example.

Senator WONG: On notice, are you able to please provide me with a summary of those questions?

Ms Peak : Yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you very much, Ms Peak. I want to go to aid facilities and the management of contractors. In the Australian aid five years: The 2018 Australian aid stakeholder survey from the ANU, Mr Howse et al found that stakeholders had negative views on facilities. That has been a subject of discussion here. It states that the majority of those surveyed said facilities were reducing in quality and increasing in transaction costs et cetera. Are you able to give me any response to that? In particular, has the department done any analysis of the transaction costs associated with managing contractors in aid facilities?

Ms Delaney : Yes. As you note, we do use facilities in the delivery of our program. That has been something that we've been doing for around 20 years. Our assessment of them is that they are performing effectively.

Senator WONG: I actually asked about transaction costs.

Ms Delaney : We haven't done any specific analysis around transaction costs.

Senator WONG: Isn't it problematic to tell me they've performed effectively without an analysis of transaction costs? How can you determine that something is effective if you don't have a sense of the costs?

Ms Delaney : When we talk about effective, we're referring to a broad range of issues. We look at both, I suppose, the effectiveness of how it's run and whether it's actually achieving its outcomes. We do an assessment at the investment level. So it's based on whether or not the facility is achieving the outcomes that have been set. That is done on an annual basis through our aid quality check processes.

Senator WONG: I'd like a response or whatever you can give me in relation to the assertion that is contained in this stakeholder survey. I appreciate that it is a survey, which surveys people's views. What can you give me on notice that demonstrates your point about effectiveness which goes to overheads, administrative costs and/or any of the evaluation in terms of the cost-benefit of facility managed programs compared with non-facility managed programs? Do you understand? What was the mechanism you discussed?

Ms Delaney : The mechanism I discussed was through our aid quality check process, which is an investment level assessment. With respect to—

Senator WONG: An investment level assessment?

Ms Delaney : Yes. Facilities are an investment. They are a specific type of investment that allow us to deliver in rapidly changing environments. They can, by doing that, promote efficiencies because they allow us to join up different parts of it.

Senator WONG: I want to see the data that establishes these assertions you are making. Is it possible, Secretary? I want to get a handle on those assertions. There are different propositions put by different stakeholders. It would be very useful to understand the basis on which you say these are cost effective and effective in terms of policy outcome.

Ms Delaney : I will make two comments in that regard. We have undertaken a number of reviews to look at the lessons and implementation. We're aware of the stakeholder views. As a consequence, in 2008, we undertook an independent review of that.

Senator WONG: This is the aid effectiveness?

Ms Adamson : In 2018.

Ms Delaney : In 2018, I'm sorry.

Senator WONG: This is not the Kevin Rudd one?

Ms Delaney : My apologies.

Ms Adamson : We published it. We can certainly draw from that and point you in the right direction.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Why don't you respond on notice, even if it is referencing a document that is on the public record plus giving me something else?

Ms Delaney : Certainly.

Senator WONG: Did you hear the last bit? I love it when the response is, 'Here's the website.' It's great.

Ms Adamson : We'll try and be helpful.

Ms Delaney : We will try and be helpful. I note that the ANAO is also currently undertaking a strategic audit.

Senator WONG: When is that supposed to finish?

Ms Delaney : That is due towards the end of this quarter, so it's not too far off.

Senator WONG: On the whole of the aid program or just this component?

Ms Delaney : No. Just on facilities.

Senator WONG: I had forgotten that.

Ms Delaney : And two specific facilities, yes.

Senator WONG: I'll follow that.

Ms Delaney : That will add to the evidence base.

Senator WONG: You haven't changed any briefs during caretaker, have you, Secretary?

Ms Adamson : Changed any briefs during caretaker? I'm not sure what you're referring to, Senator.

Senator WONG: The sports rorts saga. The brief was changed after caretaker to add more.

Ms Adamson : No. I'm aware of the deep interest, but it's not something really at hand.

Senator WONG: It's not really a detail. It's a brief to the caretaker.

Ms Adamson : It's not something that goes to DFAT's interests.

Senator WONG: That's fine. Thank you very much.

Senator AYRES: I have some questions about the Philippines. I don't know if you have anybody in the room.

Ms Adamson : Julie Heckscher will come to the table.

Senator AYRES: I'm not sure whether she's in the room or coming in from out the back.

Ms Adamson : She's right here and she's on her way.

Senator AYRES: I will start while she is walking up. I note that members of the UN Human Rights Council voted last year to establish an investigation into extrajudicial killings by security forces in the Philippines. That resolution was supported by Australia. Can you tell me what the current status of that inquiry is?

Ms Heckscher : I am just looking up the exact date. It is due to report back to the HRC in, I think, the June session; I'm just trying to recall the exact date. Give me a moment.

Senator AYRES: Yes.

Ms Heckscher : Under the original resolution, part of the resolution was to ask for a report on the situation and to report back to the HRC. I think it's the June session that they'll report back.

Senator AYRES: Can you give me a quick outline of Australia's engagement with the government of the Philippines in terms of human rights?

Ms Heckscher : I can.

Senator AYRES: And bit of a broad brush assessment of the—

Ms Heckscher : State of play?

Senator AYRES: Yes.

Ms Heckscher : So with regard to the current human rights situation in the Philippines and our engagement with the Philippines, we are very strong partners of the Philippines. We engage a great deal, you would be aware, across development issues, trade and investment and all sorts of issues. We also have an ongoing engagement with the Philippines, for example, within regional organisations and within international organisations. So the relationship is both long and it's very strong.

There are concerns we have about the human rights situation in the Philippines, which is why we supported the resolution in relation to the Philippines in the HRC, as you mentioned, last year. Some of our areas of concern, for example, include, as covered by the HRC resolution, the crackdown on illegal drugs; widespread extrajudicial killings; pressures on media freedoms; attempts to suppress government critics; and proposals that the death penalty be reintroduced, for example. They are some of the areas of general concern. We have raised our concerns both publicly and privately. I think we've covered the Philippines in previous sessions here at estimates. For example, Foreign Minister Payne has issued statements at particular times. We have supported, as you mentioned, the resolution in the HRC. We have also raised or mentioned the Philippines in HRC engagements previously. We have engaged repeatedly with senior Philippines government officials on human rights concerns in Manila and here in Canberra and Geneva.

Through our development program, there's also another area that we do support human rights. For example, we have partnered with the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and The Asia Foundation to directly advance human rights in the Philippines. We have funded to the tune of $1.4 million The Asia Foundation to assist things like caseload reduction in the Philippine anti-corruption court. We have supported a program with the Philippine Commission on Human Rights to increase the capacity for human rights protection services and violations monitoring inside the Philippines. There are a n   umber of other areas in which we support and advocate for improvements in human rights. That is just the broad brush.

Senator AYRES: In addition to that crackdown on illegal drugs, the media freedom issues and the death penalty issues, President Duterte, in relation to the Filipino trade union movement, together with the armed forces chief of staff, in the context of all of these other issues—the war on illegal drugs—has likened trade union activities to a communist rebellion plot to overthrow the government. What is the Australian government's view of that? I might go on to shorten the process. Earlier this year, the Philippine National Police, along with the Philippine Economic Zone Authority, launched the Joint Industrial Peace Concerns Office to restrict trade union activities in export processing zones. Is there an awareness inside the department about the violent repression of trade union activity in the Philippines by the police force and the Philippine armed forces?

Ms Heckscher : I don't have any specific information on that right now. I can look to see if there's any information I can obtain and get back to you on that.

Senator AYRES: I would—

Ms Heckscher : We generally keep an eye on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Senator AYRES: So on this issue specifically there are multiple reports. I appreciate you will take on notice the issue of Filipino security forces violently dispersing union strikes and the surveillance of union members, including school teachers. So you can't tell me now whether the department is monitoring that situation specifically in terms of unions and civil society?

Ms Heckscher : No. I can't.

Senator AYRES: Could you provide me an update? While you're doing it, I would be interested to hear more about what assistance the Australian government is providing to civil society organisations more broadly than the trade union movement in the Philippines. Finally, given all the areas of cooperation that you touched on as you were going through your outline of your assessment of the relationship, there is, of course, extensive security cooperation between Australia and Filipino security agencies. I want to know what safeguards are in place to ensure that training and assistance provided by Australia in that context isn't used by Filipino counterparts to target trade union activists and civil society more broadly. I would like to hear more about the thinking about that. I'm worried, frankly, that it's not on the department's radar at the moment because it is a high profile issue within the Philippines itself.

Ms Heckscher : Thank you. My computer system having crashed and just rebooted, I can tell you that on trade union rights, by the way, DFAT officials met with representatives from the Philippines labour movement on 25 February to hear a little more. So we are aware of the issue and we sought information. I apologise that I was waiting for my system to reboot while sitting here.

Senator AYRES: The wifi in here seems to have slowed down. It's probably the rain.

Ms Heckscher : Certainly we are monitoring it and we are listening to the concerns. I can't tell you anything more than that right now.

Ms Adamson : I will add to this. I must say, with the greatest respect to my colleague, that I was a bit surprised when she said what she said. As a general rule, we are, in fact, focused on the whole question of rights in different countries. It comes to the fore in different ways. Where trade union rights are in dispute or under pressure in countries where we have a significantly sized presence, as we do across South-East Asia, reflecting its importance to us in a bilateral relation sense, I would expect that we would normally be focused on it. Our agencies, be it the AFP or Border Force, have a range of ways to do that kind of practical training. It is normal for there to be a human rights element involved in it quite explicitly. Whether it's on that explicit human rights element focused on trade unions, we would have to check in relation to particular programs. But in terms of the design of the programs, it's certainly very much a part of our thinking.

Senator AYRES: We just went through a few of the issues. I would like to hear back on notice a response in relation to all of those issues and a reflection on your last comment, Secretary. I would welcome anything more informally as well. It is an important aspect of human rights in the Philippines.

Ms Heckscher : That was specifically about the trade unions. You asked questions about security engagement as well. Of course, they really are questions for Defence and the AFP, who are directly doing it. I can say that a part of our engagement with the Philippines security forces—this is certainly the ADF and others—is that we don't provide support to activities associated with, for example, the controversial anti-drugs campaign. The ADF conducts its operations under strict rules of engagement designed to ensure that the actions of Australian forces are consistent with Australian obligations under international and Australian law. Specific questions about the ADF and AFP training would need to go to the ADF and the AFP. So they are general comments that I make about the way that we engage with security forces offshore.

Senator AYRES: Well, we'll look at your response and work out where to go from there. Thank you, Ms Heckscher.

Ms Adamson : And I know, Senator, that, in relation to my engagement with the CDF and with the AFP commissioner, these are issues which they are seized of as well.

Senator AYRES: Thank you, Secretary.

Senator WONG: A very important issue. They know I have to go.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Could you also take on notice how we're going in Mindanao and the work that we're doing there? I know that we've done some very good work there. I would be grateful to get an update on Mindanao. Please take it on notice.

Senator WONG: What is Mr Hawke's title?

Ms Adamson : Minister for International Development in the Pacific.

Senator WONG: On notice, how many trips to the Pacific has the Minister for International Development in the Pacific done since he was appointed to the role? Could you tell me on notice how many the former minister did last term?

Ms Adamson : Okay.

Senator WONG: I have some quick questions about the loan to Papua New Guinea. I will try to get through a few things very quickly, if I may. A loan of US$300 million was provided by the Australian government to the government of Papua New Guinea. Is that correct?

Mr Thomson : That's right.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me what the loan is intended to be used for by the Papua New Guinea government?

Mr Thomson : Yes. The loan, which followed a direct request from the government of Papua New Guinea, was designed to help the government of Papua New Guinea meet a financing shortfall and to help provide some financial stability to support the PNG government's efforts to deliver a long-term economic reform program.

Senator WONG: I don't know if this is public. What proportion of the shortfall was this loan? Was it some or all?

Mr Thomson : My understanding is that it was some of the shortfall.

Senator WONG: The minister's press release talked about a sustainable trajectory. The loan will help PNG in its efforts to put a budget on a more sustainable trajectory. Can you tell me how?

Mr Thomson : The purpose of the loan was to also support the Papua New Guinea's engagement with the international financial institutions, who are working with Papua New Guinea to help it improve its fiscal situation.

Senator WONG: The loan will help—

Mr Thomson : It was designed to give some immediate fiscal support. It is also designed to help them engage with the international financial institutions, such as the IMF and the ADB, to give—

Senator WONG: Are you able on notice, then, to give me some more detail in a more structured way about what the loan will assist with?

Mr Thomson : Yes. We can do that.

Senator WONG: I would appreciate that, including the delivery of core services and longer term economic reforms and engagement with the multilateral institutions et cetera.

Mr Thomson : We can do that.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I want to check whether there are any conditions on the loan in relation to economic or fiscal reforms?

Mr Thomson : Not specific conditions, as I understand it. But there was an expectation that we would see, for instance, a supplementary budget, which happened, and that we would see some improvements in the quality of the PNG government's most recent budget, as an example, and that they would be engaging with the IMF towards a staff program and there would be some engagement with the ADB.

Senator WONG: I assume there's some sort of written arrangement or contract agreement, deed or something like that that supports the loan. I assume the arrangements in relation to the loan are set out somewhere in documentation. Is there an agreement or contract?

Mr Thomson : I might have to check that.

Senator WONG: This is from EFIC?

Mr Thomson : Yes. Export Finance, yes.

Senator WONG: Would they be able to tell us about that?

Mr Thomson : The money is delivered through them.

Senator WONG: I will come to the national interest account. I am actually asking about what legal document sets out the arrangements between the Australian government and the Papua New Guinea government in relation to this loan.

Mr Thomson : That is with the Export Finance organisation.

Senator WONG: So they will be able to tell us about that. I won't be here for their evidence. I wonder if you could take on notice and perhaps refer it to them. I would like to understand how the details of the loan are reduced to writing? Where are they reduced to writing? How are they given effect? I would also like to know what the details of the agreement giving rise to the loan are, if available. I would like to know terms, repayments and interest rates et cetera.

Mr Thomson : They are questions for the Export Finance corporation, yes.

Senator WONG: Yes. Could you take that on notice and refer to them? The minister's statement says that the loan will come from the national interest account and be structured to incur no cost to the taxpayer.

Mr Thomson : That's right.

Senator WONG: How do you give money with no cost to the taxpayer?

Mr Thomson : That's because of the fact that they are paying interest on the loan.

Senator Birmingham: Senator Wong, you're right; the details are best put to Export Finance Australia when they're at the table. I understand it's called a facility agreement that exists.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

Senator Birmingham: There are terms there. Basic terms get published in accordance with the legislation, so information on NIA loans is gazetted and all information on transactions is put on EFA's online register. There is a very nominal interest rate consistent with World Bank rates that ensures that neutrality.

Senator WONG: Which covers the cost of whatever, I suppose, additional financing arrangements the Australian government has to engage in in order to provide the loan?

Mr Thomson : That's right.

Ms Adamson : Going to your more detailed question, though, beyond the information released in the gazettal, it is standard practice for Export Finance Australia not to disclose loan terms.

Senator WONG: I figured that I would ask and you would give me whatever you could. Does the $1.5 billion loan come from the AIFFP? Is it accounted for against that?

Mr Thomson : No.

Senator WONG: What proportion of the loan counts as ODA?

Mr Venugopal : None of it counts as ODA.

Senator WONG: None of it?

Mr Venugopal : Yes. There's no underlying cash balance impact because—

Senator WONG: I'm sorry?

Mr Venugopal : There is no underlying cash balance impact.

Senator WONG: Yes. I understand that.

Mr Venugopal : It's entirely fiscal. So, no, it's not counted as ODA.

Senator WONG: No concessional?

Mr Venugopal : There is no concessional component. It's not sufficiently concessional.

Senator WONG: Not sufficiently concessional?

Mr Venugopal : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I want to ask some questions about a recent report about the Uyghurs.

Ms Adamson : Certainly. While my colleague is coming to the table, I will raise a really small but quite important point. Earlier today, Mr Todd corrected the figures that he had earlier given with respect to unaccompanied minors in Hubei province. I was sitting next to him at the time. I realised he had misspoken on one aspect. I thought it was clear what he meant. Apparently, it's been misinterpreted in the media. Mr Todd said there were, in fact, eight children two years or older. In fact, he meant eight are two years old or younger.

Senator WONG: This is the correction on the correction?

Ms Adamson : We were talking about the 22. It is. We're talking about the 22. In fact, it was then eight plus 14.

Senator WONG: It's a good thing I like you, Mr Todd.

Ms Adamson : Well, we're particular about this, as you know.

Senator WONG: Eight were two or under?

Ms Adamson : Correct.

Senator WONG: Can someone provide me with an update of the situation facing Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang province, please?

Ms Cawte : We continue to be concerned about the situation for Uyghurs in Xinjiang. There are credible reports of mass detentions that you would have seen. There are limitations on the exercise of their freedom of religion and there is pervasive surveillance. More recently, there have been reports of facilitation of the transfer of Uyghur workers from Xinjiang to other parts of China to work in factories, with a suggestion that there's coercion involved with that too. So we remain concerned about this situation. We've raised it many times, including most recently the report about the possible coercion in the transfer of workers.

Senator WONG: Is this the ASPI report?

Ms Cawte : That's correct.

Senator WONG: I was going to ask you about that. Does the government regard the report's findings as credible?

Ms Cawte : It's very hard for us to verify these reports. We find the earlier reports of the surveillance and the detentions very credible. That there is coercion in the transfer of labour of workers would fit with a pattern of coercion. But, as I say, it is very hard for us to be able to verify these issues.

Senator WONG: I think you were about to tell me about raising the representations being made, including in relation to the reports of forced transfers or mass transfers and forced labour?

Ms Cawte : That's right. Those reports came out on Sunday. We have drawn them to the attention of the Chinese and expressed our concerns.

Senator WONG: May I ask how we've done that?

Ms Cawte : We've done that here in Canberra.

Senator WONG: Has the minister made a recent statement in relation to the situation in Xinjiang?

Ms Cawte : In Tibet, did you say?

Senator WONG: Xinjiang.

Ms Cawte : She did following the Xinjiang papers in November last year. She's also raised this with her counterpart, state councillor Wang Yi.

Senator WONG: Finally—colleagues have other questions—on Iran, obviously there was an escalation of tensions following the assassination of Soleimani. I'm sorry, but I don't know the title; is it Mr Soleimani? It was in January.

Ms Peak : General.

Senator WONG: General. That's it. I couldn't remember the rank.

CHAIR: Purveyor of international terrorism would do.

Senator WONG: Well, I was just trying to recall the rank. It was in January 2020. Leaving aside whatever political views Senator Abetz has, I want to ask: how did we become aware of the decision to conduct a strike?

Ms Peak : After the strike had occurred, we were aware.

Senator WONG: Were we briefed by US interlocutors as to the likely regional impacts? Did we have that discussion?

Ms Peak : Not to my knowledge.

Senator WONG: There were retaliatory strikes against US military targets in Iraq some six days later, I think it was. Were any Australian personnel impacted by them?

Ms Peak : No.

Senator WONG: Did the government have discussions with either US counterparts or Iranian counterparts about the risk of escalation during that period?

Ms Peak : Yes. We did. We made some representations to Iranian officials in Tehran and here about urging restraint and de-escalation. Of course, the foreign minister and the Prime Minister made numerous public comments as well that you would have seen.

Senator WONG: We obviously have a situation where the US government continues a policy of maximum pressure. I would like to understand the department's assessment of the risk of escalation over the near term and medium term.

Ms Peak : I wouldn't ascribe the risks necessarily to the US policy. But we, of course, remain concerned about escalated tensions in—

Senator WONG: Well, not only. There is also Iranian behaviour, of course. My point is that we've got two very different—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It's nice that you conceded that.

Senator WONG: Come on. I've been very clear about this. My point is that the US administration, obviously not supportive of the JCPOA, has a policy of maximum pressure. We have an Iranian regime which has been historically and consistently supportive of terror. I can't remember the term you've used previously, Secretary; it was not 'disruptor'. You used a term previously to describe Iranian behaviour.

CHAIR: I'm sure it was a good one.

Senator WONG: I'm just asking about the risks of escalation and your assessment of that.

Ms Peak : Well, of course, we were concerned about the escalation and the likely or potential risks of miscalculation. But the tensions have levelled off since that peak in early January.

Senator WONG: Does the Australian government continue to support the JCPOA?

Ms Peak : We're not a party to the JCPOA, obviously, but we support the non-proliferation principles of the JCPOA, yes.

Senator WONG: I know we're not a party. We've previously made public statements. I'm trying to work out if there has been any change in position.

Ms Adamson : No. There hasn't.

Ms Cawte : No.

Ms Adamson : Can I say that, in relation to the risks of escalation, obviously from the moment that we became aware of General Soleimani's death, the responses across the region and the potential for instability, we were very seized of the importance of taking action to secure the safety of Australian personnel overseas—both diplomatic personnel and ADF personnel. We seized of it in a broader geostrategic context given other factors at play in the Middle East and with particular reference to the safety of not just our personnel in the region but also Australians in the region. So it plays into a whole range of things, including our security responsibilities and our consular responsibilities.

CHAIR: But the escalation there died down when they shot down the passenger airline, did it not?

Senator WONG: I think prior to that.

Ms Adamson : Well, yes. But I don't think we should assume that this thing is over. And we don't.

Senator WONG: I thought that the public comments which were referenced as de-escalation were made prior to the shooting down of the airliner.

CHAIR: Further de-escalation.

Ms Peak : The Australian one, do you mean?

Senator WONG: No. The US and Iranian comments.

Ms Adamson : Yes. They were, as I recall. There were a number of things happening in close proximity, including, we must recognise, that Iran is now dealing with a very serious outbreak of COVID-19. But there are other aspects of this which may well play out over the longer term.

Senator WONG: I think my colleagues have some questions. Thank you.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Suffice it to say, Secretary, that the killing of this terrorist was not the beginning of the tensions. There have been tensions there for a long time.

Ms Adamson : Playing out over decades.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: These tensions, and the commander Soleimani was subject to sanctions not just by the UN, the EU and Australia. His organisations continue to support regimes through Hezbollah and other groups in Iraq and elsewhere. As a consequence of that, they put a lot of Australians and other people at risk.

Senator Birmingham: And particularly, obviously, the militia backed attacks on the US embassy and other tensions that had occurred in the lead-up to these events. As the secretary says, these matters go back decades. Certainly there were heightened tensions before that event too.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: And there were attacks on US and US bases before this happened.

CHAIR: Labor has another 10 minutes.

Senator AYRES: I want to ask about PNG. There's a Guardian article today that reports that police in Papua New Guinea have begun searching for cars bought to transport world leaders during the 2018 APEC summit in Port Moresby that have gone missing. The missing cars include a number of Toyota Landcruisers. PNG's police transport director has confirmed a fleet of Maseratis and Bentleys that were controversially purchased ahead of the summit are all accounted for. Is the department aware of the investigation?

Mr Thomson : I'm not aware of the report. I'm not aware of the investigation.

Ms Adamson : I am aware, having—

CHAIR: So you don't read the Guardian?

Ms Adamson : I'm aware of the issue that arose obviously out of the arrangements made during PNG's APEC hosting year. Mr Thomson has previously been our deputy head of mission in Beijing. His mind was on other things during the hosting of APEC. So there has been considerable attention paid to this. I should clarify that I have not actually read the Guardian article. But this has been—

CHAIR: That's reassuring.

Ms Adamson : This issue which has been running has been investigated. Obviously, these are luxury cars. These are a set of issues that are somewhat problematic. We are, to the extent that we're able to, keeping a close eye on it.

Senator AYRES: So the department is aware of how many vehicles the PNG government purchased for the summit?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator AYRES: It was my understanding that the PNG government planned to sell the fleet after APEC.

Ms Adamson : That's correct.

Senator AYRES: Has that happened?

Ms Adamson : Not the last time we looked. Not the last time this was given media attention. I don't have the latest. We can check that. Of course, you purchase these things for leaders. They lose resale value. There's a lot of interest for a variety of reasons. Then you're effectively stuck with them. That, I think, is in simple terms what has happened.

Senator AYRES: Thanks, Secretary. That's all I've got on that.

Senator KITCHING: Is the Iraqi government still persisting in its request that American troops leave Iraq?

Ms Adamson : Dr Macdonald will come to the table. I think it's perhaps not as clear-cut as that. I will leave her to explain.

Dr Macdonald : You will recall that there was a vote of the parliament on 5 January which suggested that they would request coalition forces to leave. They were since moved from that position. The Iraqi government itself is in some state of flux, as you will also realise, with the Prime Minister designate relinquishing that role in the last couple of days.

Senator KITCHING: What is the assessment of the drivers of recent protests, particularly in Baghdad but in other more regional cities? What is the department's assessment of that?

Dr Macdonald : Well, the key drivers really for the current political instability and the protests are public grievances around high levels of unemployment, the lack of public services, the slow pace of recovery and the restoration of government services in areas formerly occupied by Daesh. Obviously the Iraqi government is grappling with that scourge within its borders and a convoluted Iraqi political system. Of course, we're also concerned by Iran's behaviour within Iraq, but that's not perhaps the key driver in our assessment for the political instability and the protests.

Senator KITCHING: Is it the department's assessment, or it might be too early, that because of COVID-19 and the effect it's having within Iran's borders, that might diminish their influence in Iraq? Do you think that the hegemony they seem to be building in the region will diminish?

Dr Macdonald : I would go back to your comment that it's too early to tell, obviously, how that might play out in the region. It's something that we're looking at and will continue to look at.

Senator KITCHING: Will the sanctions that have been placed on Iran diminish the hegemony that Iran has been seeking to build across the west of Iran?

Dr Macdonald : Australia's sanctions, do you mean?

Senator KITCHING: No. I mean the various sanctions from—

Dr Macdonald : Other countries on Iran. Some of those sanctions go specifically to Iran's nuclear program and the non-proliferation aspects of that. That is what they are directly focused on in terms of the broader economic sanctions, I guess, that the US has. That of course is having an effect, I guess on Iran, but I wouldn't like to speculate on exactly what that means for Iraqis within Iraq at this point.

Senator KITCHING: It is a complex region, as they say. I will go east to Afghanistan. Obviously, there have been various attempts at a peace deal with the Taliban. It then looked like it was going to happen. What is the department's assessment around that? I very briefly saw a report, I think today, that there had been already a breach of that arrangement.

Mr Biggs : There was an agreement concluded on Saturday last by the United States and the Taliban in Doha and a parallel agreement between the United States and the Afghan government in Kabul setting out steps ahead for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and an intra-Afghan dialogue to conclude arrangements for peace in the country. Australia and the rest of the international community welcomed those agreements, obviously, as the first significant opportunity for peace in many years. We remain supportive, of course. Australia has a direct involvement through our development assistance and through our military contribution to NATO in Afghanistan. There have been some unfortunate developments already in that the proposed exchange of prisoners that was to take place has been questioned by President Ghani of Afghanistan. The reduction in violence which the Taliban agreed to in the lead-up to those agreements terminated. It was a seven-day test. There have been several—in fact, many—attacks by the Taliban and international military action against them in the last two days.

Senator KITCHING: Were any of the exchanges actually made? I think there were going to be 5,000 Taliban troops exchanged for 1,000 Afghan soldiers. I might not have those figures quite correct.

Mr Biggs : That's correct. They are the numbers given in the Doha agreement.

Senator KITCHING: Have a