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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
15/11/2017
Estimates
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO

PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO

In Attendance

Senator Brandis, Attorney-General

Senator Fierravanti-Wells, Minister for International Development and the Pacific

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Outcome 1

Overview

Dr David Gruen, Deputy Secretary, Economic

Economic Group

Dr David Gruen, Deputy Secretary, Economic

Ms Tanja Cvijanovic, First Assistant Secretary, Policy Innovation and Projects Division

Ms Paula Stagg, Assistant Secretary, Environment, Energy and Climate Change Branch

Mr Wayne Poels, Executive Director, OBPR / Assistant Secretary, Regulatory Policy Branch

Ms Dominique Lowe, Assistant Secretary, Commonwealth State Relations Branch

Social Policy Group

Ms Lin Hatfield Dodds, Deputy Secretary

Mr Nathan Williamson, First Assistant Secretary, Social Policy Division

Ms Susan Fitzgerald, Acting Assistant Secretary, Health Branch

Ms Ailsa Borwick, Assistant Secretary, Social Services and Immigration Branch

Ms Rachel Livingston, Acting Assistant Secretary, Education Branch

Mr Geoffrey Brown, First Assistant Secretary, PFAS Taskforce

Innovation and Transformation

Ms Mary Wiley-Smith, Acting Deputy Secretary

Mr Luke Yeaman, First Assistant Secretary, Industry, Infrastructure and Environment

Ms Julia Pickworth, Assistant Secretary, Infrastructure, Population, Agriculture and Regional Development Branch

Mr Neil Williams, Assistant Secretary, Industry, Innovation, Science and Communications Branch

Ms Claire Howlett, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Cities Division

Ms Kate Lynch, Assistant Secretary, Cities Division

Governance Group

Ms Yael Cass, Acting Deputy Secretary

Ms Paula Ganly, First Assistant Secretary, Ministerial Support Division

Ms Philippa Lynch, First Assistant Secretary, Government Division

Mr Peter Rush, Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary and Government Branch, Government Division

Ms Maia Ablett, Acting Assistant Secretary, Legal Policy Branch, Government Division

Ms Charlotte Tressler, First Assistant Secretary, Financial Services Division

Ms Michele Graham, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Cabinet Division

Ms Lee Steel, Assistant Secretary, Strategic Coordination Unit

Ms Deborah Lewis, formerly First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Services Division

Ms Emma Greenwood, Assistant Secretary, People Branch

National Security

Mr Allan McKinnon, Deputy Secretary

Ms HK Yu, Acting Deputy Secretary

Ms Marina Tsirbas, Acting First Assistant Secretary, International Division

Ms Sophie Sharpe, Acting Assistant Secretary, International and Strategic Policy Branch

Ms Kylie Bryant, First Assistant Secretary, National Security Division

Mr Lee Walton, First Assistant Secretary, Information Sharing and Intelligence Division

Cyber Security

Mr Alastair MacGibbon, Deputy Secretary

Ms Sandra Ragg, First Assistant Secretary, Office of the Cyber Security Special Adviser

Commonwealt h Counter-Terrorism Coordinator

Mr Tony Sheehan

Digital Transformation Agency

Program 1.1

Mr Gavin Slater, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Peter Alexander, First Assistant Secretary, Digital

Dr Lesley Seebeck, First Assistant Secretary, Investment and Advisory

Mr Jose Del Rio, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Strategy

Ms Angela Chow, Acting First Assistant Secretary, ICT Procurement

Mr George-Philip de Wet, Acting Assistant Secretary, Chief Financial Officer

Ms Joanne Cantle, Acting Assistant Secretary, Human Resources

Ms Genine Johnson, Acting Assistant Secretary, Communication and Engagement

Observer s

Ms Katie Puttock, Chief of Staff

Ms Paris Cowan

Ms Kathleen McGovern

Committee met at 16:31

CHAIR ( Senator Paterson ): I declare open this meeting of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee. Today the committee will resume its examination of the supplementary budget estimates for 2017-18 for the Prime Minister and Cabinet portfolio. The committee has before it a program that lists the entities for which senators have given notice to re-examine at today's hearing. The committee's proceedings will begin today with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and will then proceed to the Digital Transformation Agency. The committee may also refer to the annual reports of the departments and agencies appearing before it. The committee has fixed 20 December 2017 as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice.

Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to the committee.

The Senate by resolution in 1999 endorsed the following test for relevance of questions at Senate estimates hearings: any questions going to the operations or financial positions of the departments and agencies which are seeking funds in the estimates are relevant questions for the purpose of estimates hearings. I remind officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise. The Senate has resolved also that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to the minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to the order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim of public interest immunity claim should be raised.

   The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

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

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

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

(1) If:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

( 13 May 2009 J.1941 )

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders)

Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information or the document.