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Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee
15/11/2017
Estimates
PRIME MINISTER AND CABINET PORTFOLIO
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

[16:34]

CHAIR: I welcome Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, representing the Attorney-General George Brandis and the Prime Minister, and Dr David Gruen, the deputy secretary, and officers of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet examining outcome 1. Minister, do you have an opening statement?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: No, I don't.

CHAIR: Dr Gruen, do you have an opening statement?

Dr Gruen : No, I don't.

Senator KITCHING: I'm going to ask a series of questions about citizenship and eligibility of MPs through the prism of PM&C. I'm going to ask firstly about the legal advice. Will the Prime Minister release the Solicitor-General's advice about the eligibility of former senators and member who were deemed ineligible by the High Court?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: As you would be aware, guidelines pertinent to witnesses giving evidence are that legal advisers owe a duty to their clients not to disclose the existence or content of any legal advice. And I think that's a well-established principle.

Senator KITCHING: Given the public interest in this, and also given that the Prime Minister's decision was to release the former Solicitor-General's advice regarding two Labor MPs, is this refusal consistent?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: That's our position.

Senator KITCHING: So it was okay to release it about two Labor MPs but not about the coalition?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: That's the position, and that's the position that I have this afternoon. I can take any question that you wish to make and refer it to both the Attorney and the Prime Minister, but that's my position this afternoon.

Senator KITCHING: I would appreciate that if you could—and particularly about the consistency of the approach.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I'll certainly do that.

Senator KITCHING: What is the guiding principle in releasing legal advice? Is it ad hoc? Is there a policy?

Dr Gruen : Are you asking what the guiding principle is for releasing advice from the Solicitor-General?

Senator KITCHING: Yes. Actually, let's start with the Solicitor-General and then go to other legal advice. But I'm particularly interested in the Solicitor-General's advice.

Dr Gruen : I think it's a matter for government.

Senator KITCHING: Minister, there's nothing in writing? There's not a policy document around it?

Ms Cass : Legal professional privilege and legal advice statements that are in the government guidelines for official witnesses provide one form of policy that determines if and when a government may decide to release legal advice. And the general statement at 4.8.1, as you would know, is effectively that any official who has obtained advice from a lawyer will not disclose that advice without a government decision.

Senator KITCHING: Are you suggesting that perhaps a government official also obtained advice from the Solicitor-General in relation to the eligibility of citizenship of former senators and MPs?

Dr Gruen : No. Ms Cass was simply making a general statement about what is in paragraph 4.8.1.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, I understand that, but that's really in relation to officials. You've said it's a matter for government, in which case this may be a question for the minister. Minister , are you aware of a principle or a policy in relation to the releasing of the Solicitor-General's advice? Obviously, you can take the question on notice.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Like the officials, I'm guided by 4.8, and 4.8.1 in particular. I reiterate the comments that I made earlier. Anything beyond that I'll take on notice.

Senator KITCHING: If you could. Again, there is an inconsistency in the approach taken. So I'm looking for some principle or policy that might guide us as to when the Solicitor-General's advice is released.

CHAIR: And if it's available on the record, Minister, I'd like to know the approach of previous governments to releasing legal advice. I'm thinking of previous estimates advice about the Malaysia solution under the previous government—which was requested but, to my knowledge, not provided. So any advice you have on that would be welcome.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: We'll do that, Senator Paterson.

Senator KITCHING: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, when did the Prime Minister first become aware of the possibility that former Senator Parry probably still has UK citizenship?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: The Prime Minister, I understand, has made comments on the record. I will take that on notice. As you can appreciate, given the events of today the Attorney has other things that he's doing, and I'm stepping in. I will try to be of assistance where I can, but I will take matters on notice if I can't. And I'm clearly not aware of that, but I will take that question on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. I appreciate that. Dr Gruen, when did the department first become aware of Mr Parry possibly having UK citizenship?

Ms Cass : I believe the department became aware—well, I became aware—when it was published in the media.

Senator KITCHING: What about the departmental liaison officers in the Prime Minister's office? When did they become aware?

Ms Cass : I don't know the answer to that. We'll have to take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, if you could that on notice, that would be good. Also, when did the media team in PM&C become aware? How were they made aware, and who made them aware?

Dr Gruen : Again, we can take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. Did the department seek legal advice about this?

Dr Gruen : About Senator Parry?

Ms Cass : No, Senator, the department did not.

Senator KITCHING: I want to move to Ms Marino's citizenship issues. How did the department find out about the issue?

Ms Cass : Again, we became—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Can I just say: Ms Marino's 'alleged' citizenship issue.

Senator KITCHING: I'm happy to take 'alleged' in there.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Thank you.

Ms Cass : We only became aware of issues relating to queries around potential dual citizenship by reading the media.

Senator KITCHING: Have you sought legal advice on her situation?

Ms Cass : No, we have not.

Senator KITCHING: I'm going to ask a series of questions, and you may wish to take these on notice. These are questions to the department, to Senator Fierravanti-Wells and, through you Senator Fierravanti-Wells, to the Attorney-General. Has the department or the Prime Minister sought legal advice on the citizenship status of Julia Banks? Has the department or the Prime Minister sought legal advice on the citizenship status of Ann Sudmalis? Has the department or the Prime Minister sought legal advice on the citizenship status of Tony Pasin? Has the department or the Prime Minister sought legal advice on the citizenship status of Jason Falinski? Has the department or the Prime Minister sought legal advice on the citizenship status of Luke Hartsuyker? Has the department or the Prime Minister sought legal advice on the citizenship status of Concetta Fierravanti-Wells? And I understand you're here; you might be able to answer that rather than take it on notice.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I can tell you that it's a matter of the public record. I renounced my Italian citizenship in July 1994. I did that at the Italian consulate in Sydney. I have in my possession documents of that renunciation, including documents from the municipality in Italy where my citizenship was registered and where my parents were born, noting the renunciation and making appropriate annotation on their records.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: So, can I give you the dib, dib, dib, dob, dob, dob answer, and that's it?

Senator KITCHING: That's very good. Hopefully the others will be so forthcoming.

Dr Gruen : In terms of the department, I can tell you that the department has not sought legal advice on any of those people.

Senator KITCHING: Well, I haven't finished, so maybe at the end you can—

Dr Gruen : Certainly. Sorry; I wasn't aware that you hadn't finished.

Senator KITCHING: Has the department or the Prime Minister sought legal advice on the citizenship status of Bert van Manen? Has the department of the Prime Minister sought legal advice on the constitutional implications of Senator Barry O'Sullivan's businesses having contracts with the government and whether he should be referred to the High Court? Have you had advice about that?

Dr Gruen : The department has not sought advice on any of those people.

Senator KITCHING: Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of Julia Banks? Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of Ann Sudmalis?

Dr Gruen : No.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Perhaps, Senator Kitching, you could go through and put those questions on the record, and then I think it might be appropriate, if the officials have any questions—we'll do it that way.

Senator KITCHING: So, Dr Gruen, you're listing the names I'm reading out, and at the end you'll respond to each?

Dr Gruen : I am aware of the names you're reading out, and the answer is that the department has not sought legal advice about any of those people.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. So, I'll just keep going. These are questions of course not just about advice now but about any discussions you may have had with any other departments or with the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of, say, Julia Banks.

Dr Gruen : Not to my knowledge.

Senator KITCHING: Do you think anyone else—Ms Cass, you haven't had any discussions with anyone?

Ms Cass : I have not.

Senator KITCHING: Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of Ann Sudmalis?

Dr Gruen : No.

Ms Cass : No.

Senator KITCHING: Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of Tony Pasin?

Dr Gruen : No.

Ms Cass : No.

Senator KITCHING: Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of Jason Falinski?

Dr Gruen : No

Senator KITCHING: Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of Luke Hartsuyker?

Dr Gruen : No

Senator KITCHING: Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of Senator Fierravanti-Wells?

Dr Gruen : No.

Senator KITCHING: That's good to know. Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizen status of Alex Hawke?

Dr Gruen : No.

Senator KITCHING: Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the citizenship status of Bert van Manen?

Dr Gruen : No.

Senator KITCHING: Has the department been involved in any discussions with other departments or the Prime Minister's office about the constitutional implications of Senator Barry O'Sullivan's businesses having contracts with the government and whether he should be referred to the High Court?

Dr Gruen : No.

Senator KITCHING: I'm going to move to a slightly different topic. I want to have a discussion around the Statement of Ministerial Standards, firstly 1.3(iii) in particular:

Ministers must accept accountability for the exercise of the powers and functions of their office - that is, to ensure that their conduct, representations and decisions as Ministers, and the conduct, representations and decisions of those who act as their delegates or on their behalf - are open to public scrutiny and explanation.

One might view the estimates process as part of that. Has the Prime Minister had a discussion with Senator Cash about the functions of her office and those to whom she may delegate certain activities?

Dr Gruen : We're not party to the discussions that the Prime Minister has.

Senator KITCHING: Senator Fierravanti-Wells?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Well, I think Senator Cash has made extensive commentary and extensive comments in relation to her appearance before Senate estimates. And I think other than public comments that Senator Cash has made I have nothing further to add in relation to that.

Senator KITCHING: Are you aware of the Prime Minister holding Senator Cash to account?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I will take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Why is Senator Cash avoiding estimates hearings?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Well, Senator Cash is not avoiding estimates hearings. I think, Senator Kitching, you were in the Senate yesterday and all week, and Senator Cash has made it very, very clear that she attended the hearing, and I understand that there will be a further hearing of the relevant Senate committee and she will be attending to answer questions.

Senator KITCHING: It's a long time between that hearing and the last one, though.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator Kitching, I recall very clearly the answer Senator Cash gave yesterday in the Senate to a question asked of her by I think Senator Cameron. So might I suggest that to refresh your memory you—

Senator KITCHING: No, I think it was 40 or 43 days. She wasn't available at all between those dates.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Whatever the days, my understanding is that it was canvassed in the Senate yesterday. You too were present, Senator Kitching. If you want to get the precise details of what Senator Cash said I'm sure you'll be able to read the Hansard transcript from yesterday or the day before.

Senator KITCHING: So, she's coming back whenever it is—sometime in December—but it was a long time that she wasn't available, given the importance of the issue—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Those questions were asked of Senator Cash yesterday and the day before in the Senate. Senator Cash answered those questions, and I don't have anything further to add to what Senator Cash said in the Senate. If you had wanted to ask her any more questions then you could have used your questions in question time to ask her those questions. I mean, you have a number of questions on days available to you, and if you weren't happy with the first answer you could have asked her again.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister, we did ask her to appear here at this spillover, but she was unavailable for this spillover as well.

Senator KITCHING: And we know she's in Canberra.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Well, I cannot take the matter further. I was present. Senator Cash gave those answers. You heard the answers. I cannot add anything further. I'm happy to take the questions on notice and refer them to her, but at this point in time I cannot do more than that.

Senator KITCHING: You understand that it's hard—I mean, for all we know she's sitting in her office having a cup of tea, but she could have been here. Anyway—I want to move on to another section of the Statement of Ministerial Standards, which is around accountability:

Additionally, Ministers are to regard the skills and abilities of public servants as a public resource—

Dr Gruen : Senator, could you say which section you're reading from?

Senator KITCHING: I'm in 4.3. So:

Additionally, ministers are to regard the skills and abilities of public servants as a public resource, and are expected to ensure that public servants are deployed only for appropriate public purposes. The political and other personal interests of career public servants are to be disregarded unless such interests pose a conflict of interest or give rise to a breach of established conventions of public service neutrality.

Has the Prime Minister had a discussion with Senator Cash and held her accountable for the misuse of public resourced public servants?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Well, I don't accept the premise of your question. I will take that question on notice insofar as it doesn't raise assertions of any infringement of section 4.3.

Senator KITCHING: Going further than just the appropriate use of public servants and treating them as a public resource is, of course, misusing them. In the case of the Australian Federal Police, there's now going to be an AFP investigation, but 419 of the Criminal Code Act, which relates to hindering or obstructing a public official—are her staff being held accountable? Is she being held accountable for her staff, given that they are in her office and she is accountable for them as we've just seen in 1.3(iii)? Is she being held accountable for the actions of her staff?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator Kitching, I think that your questions now are going beyond the purview of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator KITCHING: I don't agree with that, because there's the Statement of Ministerial Standards. This is an estimates spillover of Prime Minister and Cabinet. It is entirely appropriate, as we've just agreed, that estimates is a part of keeping a government to account, so I would like to know whether the Prime Minister has held her accountable.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I will take that part of the question on notice.

Senator KITCHING: I'll move to Statement of Ministerial Standards clause 5.1, which is under the heading 'Responsibility'. It states:

Ministers are expected to be honest in the conduct of public office and take all reasonable steps to ensure that they do not mislead the public or the Parliament. It is a Minister's personal responsibility to ensure that any error or misconception in relation to such a matter is corrected or clarified, as soon as practicable and in a manner appropriate to the issues and interests involved.

What I particularly want to ask you about is: has the Prime Minister held Senator Cash accountable for her conduct in public office?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator Cash has made a series of statements, both before estimates and in the Senate, relevant to this matter, and I'd refer you to those statements.

Senator KITCHING: What I would also like to know is—and maybe you can take this on notice—who is paying for the staff's legal costs? The staff who are being investigated in the AFP investigation: who's paying for their costs?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I'll take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: I would like to know whether there has been a discussion between the Prime Minister and Senator Cash about what those staff may say to the AFP investigators. And how broadly has that discussion been held? For example, has the Prime Minister been involved in a discussion? Has the Prime Minister's chief of staff been involved in a discussion? That would be good to know.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I'll take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: I want to move to some discussion about Senator Cash's involvement and conduct in the AFP raids on the AWU, because this is our first opportunity to make inquiries of the Prime Minister. We learnt in the education and employment estimates that it was someone in Senator Cash's office who tipped off the media of the impending raids of the AFP on the AWU offices. When did the Prime Minister first learn of the impending raids?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Other than comments that the Prime Minister may have made on the record in relation to this, I will take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Particularly, did he learn of those impending raids in the meeting he held with Senator Cash prior to question time on 25 October 2017?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: As I said earlier, Senator Cash has made a series of statements both before estimates and in the chamber in relation to this matter. I would refer you to those, and anything beyond that I will take on notice.

Senator KITCHING: The questions may be elucidated by the fact that Senator Cash herself, in Education and Employment estimates, states—I'm just going to find it for you—that her chief of staff was there, her media adviser was there and some staff from the PMO were there. So what I'd like to know is who was there and what was discussed at that meeting. When did the Prime Minister first learn that it was Senator Cash's office who tipped off the media?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I'll take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Can you confirm that Senator Cash's senior media adviser, who has since resigned, acted singly and independently of all others in divulging information to the media?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Again, Senator Cash has made a number of statements both before the Senate committee and also in the Senate, and I would refer you to those.

Senator McALLISTER: Minister Fierravanti-Wells, we're not really asking about Minister Cash and the administration of her office or her portfolio directly. That is, as you observed, a proper subject for her own estimates hearings. We are, however, interested in the role that the Prime Minister's office and the Prime Minister's department have played in sorting all of this out. Those are proper subjects for this hearing. I understand that it's a busy day for the government, but the estimates hearings were scheduled on the understanding that a government minister would be available to answer questions. So far, it's hard to think of a question that has not been taken on notice, and I'm just wondering whether it is your intention to answer any questions at all on behalf of the Prime Minister, or whether it is your intention to take every single question on notice.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator McAllister, I will try to assist where I can, but, as I said, if I cannot assist I will take it on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Senator Brandis, in estimates on Monday, the 23rd, when we were actually having another discussion about the Statement of Ministerial Standards said:

The Prime Minister, as the person who appoints ministers and issues the statement of what is expected of them, has the overall superintendence of the conduct of members of the government.

I then asked if anyone is ever granted an exemption from the ministerial standards, and Senator Brandis said, 'I can't think of any occasion' and that he had never heard of the concept of having an exemption. The reason we're asking is we're trying to actually ascertain who knew what and when. Has the Prime Minister actually thought: 'Oh, this is a bit bad. This is a sort of a Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen type of operation I'm running here or type of cabinet I've got going on here. I'd better ensure that some people follow through on the Statement of Ministerial Standards which is dated September 2015.' I would assume that, given that the Prime Minister, as Senator Brandis says, has the overall superintendence of the conduct of the government, he might like to see that people actually follow through on it.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I'll take your word on what Senator Brandis has said on the record.

Senator KITCHING: I'm happy to table the estimates Hansard.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I wasn't present at the time. It's a good idea to table it.

Senator KITCHING: It's there and basically those two pages. Can you guarantee that no employee of the Prime Minister played a role in giving information to any media outlets, including television stations—particularly Channel 9—and that they played no role in giving information about the AWU raids to any media outlet?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I'm not in a position to answer that question, but I will take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: I'm particularly interested in if anyone in the Prime Minister's office told Channel 9. This is up to the chair, of course, but you don't want to have a short adjournment to clarify any of these questions now, because it would be useful to have the information?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I think at this point in time, if the committee wants to have an adjournment. But, from my perspective, I'm happy to carry on and see if I can assist whenever I can. Otherwise I'll take them on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: When can we expect Senator Brandis?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Well, I'm sitting, as I understand, in the chair until we adjourn. Senator Paterson, what's the timing of the hearing this afternoon?

CHAIR: We're going until 7.30. My understanding was that Senator Brandis might be joining us later when he was available and that you were sitting in for him until he's available. However, I think we can all understand why Senator Brandis is having a busy day and I'm sure he will join us when he can.

Senator McALLISTER: So we have no advice about when Senator Brandis is appearing. I say this because the scheduling of this—you'll recall that our original request was for a meeting that would take place on Monday evening. It was moved around for a range of reasons to do with availability, not the least of which was the availability of the responsible minister in the Senate. I understand why he might be delayed, but is it really the case that Senator Brandis is not available at any time during the estimates window that has been set aside this evening?

CHAIR: That's not my understanding. The advice I had prior to coming here was that Senator Fierravanti-Wells would sit in for Senator Brandis until he was available and that he would be joining us. If I receive any updated advice on that, I'll share it with the committee. I think we should bear in mind that it has been perhaps one of the most extraordinary weeks in Australian politics in a long time, and many of those areas are at the centre of Senator Brandis's portfolio, so I think it's pretty understandable—

Senator McALLISTER: Which is why he should be here in fact to answer questions about Senator Cash's behaviour, about the constitutional crisis that is engulfing the government and a range of questions, which are central to the operation of government, and he's not here to answer them.

CHAIR: As I said, I will update the committee if I have any news about when Senator Brandis is available to join us. I think, in the meantime, we should continue questions. Senator Kitching.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Perhaps I can ask, Senator Kitching and Senator McAllister, are there other areas that you may wish to go to, or were you intending to spend the rest of the time allocated for Prime Minister and Cabinet just on these matters?

Senator KITCHING: Not at all; I've got other questions.

Senator McALLISTER: That's partly why I was asking when Senator Brandis would be here. We can move onto different questions in anticipation of his arrival, but we don't have any information at this point in time about when he will be here. It's very hard for us to prioritise our questions in—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator, I'm trying to perhaps look at other ways, if you wanted to use the time. It's a matter for you. They're your questions. It's your time.

Senator McALLISTER: It is a very unsatisfactory way to run an estimates hearing.

Senator KITCHING: I'm just going to move to the Prime Minister's expenses audit procedures and perhaps, Dr Gruen, you might be able to help me. I just want to obtain some clarity around the internal financial audit and reconciliation processes that ensure that ministers are in compliance with the statement of ministerial standards and, particularly, the observing of due economy in the conduct of parliamentary and ministerial business. So, how do the internal financial audit and reconciliation processes work?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Sorry, Senator Kitching, could you perhaps elaborate and give us a little more detail. Give us an idea of where you want to go so that we might be able to see if we can get the right officials here.

Senator KITCHING: In the statement of ministerial standards, there is a section that deals with—I'll just find it for you—spending taxpayers' money responsibly. So you're aware of the principle?

Dr Gruen : Do you want to tell us the section that you're reading from?

Senator KITCHING: I'm not actually reading from a section yet, Dr Gruen, but I will be.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I think you're looking at accountability.

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: 'Ministers must be scrupulous'—is that the sort of—?

Senator KITCHING: Yes. That's where I am.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I did sit on finance and public affairs for many years. I'm showing my age now.

Senator KITCHING: I'm in 4.1, Dr Gruen. It says:

Such resources are not to be subject to wasteful or extravagant use, and due economy is to be observed at all times—

blah, blah. I have to hand out some documents, which highlight a discrepancy. Perhaps someone is able to assist me with how this could have happened. I'm looking at the VIP flights, or the Special Purpose Aircraft special purpose flights, and I am particularly looking at—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Could you just give us a copy of what you have? It'll make it easier for our officials.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, I'm happy to table it but, essentially—until you get that document—the foreign minister and her partner flew from Canberra to Perth, and Perth to Canberra, on the 17 and 18 October 2015, respectively.

Dr Gruen : Senator, VIP flights are—

Senator KITCHING: Out of Defence. I know.

Dr Gruen : You know.

Senator KITCHING: I know that and I've asked for this in Defence as well. But what I'm really asking about is the Statement of Ministerial Standards, which was why I started by asking you about the audit and reconciliation processes. Obviously, the Prime Minister has overall superintendence—I think that was Senator Brandis's word.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Therefore who ensures that there is due economy? Because the discrepancy that I'd like to highlight is that the foreign minister actually also had a commercial flight booked. So what happened there? Why was a special purpose flight taken when there was also a commercial flight? Who audits all of that?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: What is the process, Dr Gruen? Can we assist Senator Kitching with the process of what involvement may have been had by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in relation to organisation in any way, shape or form with VIP flights? Can we start with that?

Senator KITCHING: Yes, that's exactly it.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Can we start with that point, because that may be a good way to set the scene for what involvement, if any, this department has, and then we can try and assist, if we can.

Ms P Lynch : To the extent of the use of VIPs, that would be primarily a matter for the Department of Finance, or the finance portfolio and the parliamentary expenses authority. We don't have any involvement with ministers' use of VIPs.

Senator KITCHING: Maybe someone can take this on notice. There was a special purpose flight taken on 17 and 18 October by the foreign minister and her partner, Mr Panton. You'll see that down the bottom of page 34 of 63. On the Department of Finance website, it indicates that a commercial airfare from Sydney to Perth was charged to the foreign minister on the same day that she's noted on the Special Purpose Aircraft manifest.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: That's the second document, Senator Kitching. The document that's headed 1 July to 31 December 2015 comes out of Finance records, out of her—

Senator KITCHING: Well, I think this might come out of Defence, because the special purpose flights are out of Defence and the Finance documents relate to her travel.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: You've given us two documents.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, I have.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Sorry, can I check: the document that's headed 'Schedule of special purpose flights' obviously comes out as a Defence document.

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: With the document that's got 1 July to 31 December, 2015, headed 'Hon. Julie Bishop MP: domestic schedule, fares', does that come out of Finance, out of her own documents pertinent to Ms Bishop's finance or domestic travel.

Senator KITCHING: Yes.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Yes, I understand. So that's the difference between the two, and you're trying to get clarification of those two?

Senator KITCHING: Yes. I'm trying to reconcile why she had a flight on 17 October—a commercial flight from Sydney to Perth worth $1,844.11—and then why she's also got a special purpose flight that she and her partner, Mr Panton, took—also from Canberra to Perth and then Perth to Canberra—on 17 October and then 18 October respectively that was worth $14,648. I'd like to know what the reconciliation process is. Does the Prime Minister take the statement of ministerial standards seriously and particularly 4.1, which is that due economy is to be observed?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Well, if I can take the second part: the Prime Minister, of course, takes the prime ministerial statements very, very seriously. We will, insofar as the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have any involvement, clarify that. But I think from what Ms Philippa Lynch said, we don't really have any involvement. We can it take on notice and pass it on to Finance, and that's probably where Finance may be able to assist as to why that discrepancy is there. Senator Kitching, I'm not making any comment whatsoever in relation to these documents, but in my experience over the years sometimes there are discrepancies in our documents and sometimes these discrepancies are pointed out. I'm just saying that for the record; but insofar as we can pass that on, we will.

Senator KITCHING: I presume Ms Bishop has signed off, as we are all required to do, on her Finance department documents, so I'd like to know if there is a discrepancy, why didn't she pick it up? If there is no discrepancy, did she just cancel the flight because the special purpose flight came along?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I understand the question. I'm not sure that we can take it any further now, but we will refer it on.

Senator KITCHING: Could I ask you then: is there any review protocol about the special purpose aircraft use? Does the Prime Minister review that? I understand it's from Defence and the Minister for Defence signs it off, but does the Prime Minister then have an overview process around it?

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator Kitching, let me just have a word here. Dr Gruen might—

Dr Gruen : I can give you something, which is that the reconciliation of parliamentary expenses is the responsibility of the Finance portfolio and I think it makes most sense to refer those questions to them.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Senator Kitching, why don't we try to assist you with this. It may be worthwhile if we provide the process to you. In other words, provide what's the process with the use of VIP flights. I'm sure that we'll be able to provide, in response to your question, a document that shows at least general information pertinent to the use of VIP flights—

Senator KITCHING: That would be helpful.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: and in that process, indicate to you what role, if any, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have in that process, and what process, if any, the Prime Minister's office have in that. Does that cover the ambit of your question?

Senator KITCHING: Yes, thank you, that would be great. Then could I specifically ask, in addition to that, whether former Deputy Prime Minister Joyce flew in any special purpose aircraft between 27 October 2017 and today's date? And if so, I would like a manifest for each flight. I would also like to ask whether former Senator Fiona Nash flew in any special purpose aircraft between the date of her disqualification and today's date. I would like the manifest provided and whether the Prime Minister had any knowledge of that.

CHAIR: Just to jump in there briefly, I can advise that the Attorney-General will be joining us shortly. I believe that will be at about 5.30 pm.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: There you go, we can do routine things! Any more questions, Senator Kitching?

Senator KITCHING: I think there's more, but I think Senator McAllister—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Sorry, Dr Gruen has something else to say.

Dr Gruen : I can provide some useful information from the Department of Finance website, Ministerial and Parliamentary Services, headed 'Guidelines for the use of special purpose aircraft'. There is a document, which is a public document, which provides that:

The purpose of this document is to state the guidelines for the use of special purpose aircraft and provide the definitions and responsibilities of approving authorities, entitled persons and their parties as they apply to travel on special purpose aircraft (SPA).

I think much of your—

Senator KITCHING: Yes, but I want to know whether the Prime Minister overviews that, given 4.1—

Dr Gruen : We can take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Right, thank you. Also, is the Prime Minister aware of people's usage of those flights, given the vast difference between taking a commercial flight and the use of that?

Dr Gruen : Understood.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

Senator McALLISTER: May I have the call, Chair?

CHAIR: Yes, you certainly may.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you. I wanted to ask about the Prime Minister's trip to the Snowy to discuss a funding injection into the feasibility study on 28 August. Is there someone from the department who can assist with that?

Dr Gruen : Quite possibly.

Senator McALLISTER: I'm particularly interested in the travel arrangements, if that assists.

Dr Gruen : I'm not sure if we have people here who can tell you about the travel arrangements, but if you ask a question, we'll—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: I think Senator McAllister asks the question and then—

Dr Gruen : We know about the policy.

Senator McALLISTER: It's just sometimes good to know if the people are here. I am interested in the travel arrangements. I understand that Mr Turnbull travelled by helicopter to make that announcement. Why were helicopter flights deemed necessary for that trip?

Dr Gruen : Again, I don't think we are the people who make judgements about whether a helicopter is used or not.

Senator McALLISTER: Really? Who would make judgements about that? Who does make the Prime Minister's travel arrangements?

Dr Gruen : I think the Prime Minister's office does.

Senator McALLISTER: Right, so the department was not involved in organising helicopter flights?

Ms Cass : Not to my knowledge, no. I will canvass people here to see if anyone who might know about the policy also knows about the travel—no.

Senator McALLISTER: Right, okay. Do you have any knowledge about who paid for the flights?

Ms Cass : I don't. I will have to take that and find that out.

Senator McALLISTER: Did the department pay for the flights? Presumably they did not, given your earlier answer?

Ms Cass : I can't answer that question. I will find out the information for you.

Senator McALLISTER: In doing so, could you please find out if a third party paid for the helicopter flights? If a third party did pay, since I'm putting a series of questions on notice around this, I would be interested to know if the department reimbursed any part of that cost.

Dr Gruen : We can take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: Is there anyone in the room who can talk with me about the Open Government National Action Plan? Can just someone talk me through the genesis of the Open Government National Action Plan and, in particular, which members of the government executive initiated it? Was it an initiative of the Prime Minister?

Ms Graham : I'm actually not aware of the genesis of the plan and where that came from, but I can take that on notice for you.

Senator McALLISTER: We'll add that to a long list of things that have been taken on notice. I'm sure it's not your fault, Ms Graham, but it is becoming quite frustrating. Can I ask you about the beneficial ownership transparency commitment, which is commitment 1.2? I understand that the mid-term self-assessment report for this national action plan records this milestone as having been completed.

Ms Steel : The commitment to which you have referred is led by the Treasury department. PM&C takes a coordination role in terms of ensuring reporting on the national website, but a range of the commitments are the responsibility of other departments.

Senator McALLISTER: Right, so what was the basis on which this particular initiative was marked as completed?

Ms Steel : I would have to refer that to the department of the Treasury.

Senator McALLISTER: That is not consistent with your earlier answer. You said that you were responsible for coordination and oversight. Are you telling me that you've got no idea, when you're administering this plan, whether or not the milestones that your agency say have been completed are or are not completed? You don't do any due diligence at all to understand whether or not Treasury or any other line agency has completed the action that they committed to?

Ms Steel : We take input from the departments in terms of public reporting. We also have a general role in looking at what they've done, but I don't have the information to hand in terms of how they've gone about fulfilling that commitment.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. Has any recommendation been provided to government and to the Prime Minister in relation to the implementation of the beneficial ownership register for companies?

Ms Steel : Again, I think that would be a matter for Treasury, and it may go to advice to government.

Senator McALLISTER: Right, well it arises directly from the plan, which you are oversighting, but you've got no idea whether or not a recommendation has taken place. I'll just point out that the milestone itself is:

… a recommendation to Government on the details, scope and implementation of a beneficial ownership register for companies (informed by public consultation).

Ms Steel : Senator, we'd have to take that question on notice. We don't have the information to hand today.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay, milestone No. 3 is to:

Begin work to implement Government decision on transparency of beneficial ownership of companies.

The mid-term report notes that the proposed timeline, 27 August until the end of the plan, is delayed. What is the revised timetable for the delivery of recommendations to government and the proposed internal timetable for a review, decision and implementation by government?

Ms Steel : Senator, I'd have to take that on notice. We don't have that information to hand today.

Senator McALLISTER: Will a register be implemented before the action plan concludes in 2018?

Ms Steel : Again, we'd have to take that on notice.

Senator McALLISTER: We actually don't have any ministers at the table now, is that correct?

CHAIR: Senator Brandis is just getting a cup of tea. I'll take the opportunity to thank Senator Fierravanti-Wells for her assistance and to welcome Senator Brandis.

Senator McALLISTER: Should I continue in asking questions about this plan—which is theoretically administered by PM&C, but no-one can tell me anything about it—or is that also a waste of time? I'm really quite frustrated about this. It's a policy question. It is not something that actually requires a minister.

Ms Steel : Senator, we don't have the detailed information of how various agencies are going in implementing their commitments.

Senator McALLISTER: So you're effectively running a website? That is PM&C's role in coordinating this initiative?

Dr Gruen : Senator, we have more information about this; we simply don't have it to hand. We had no knowledge that you had any interest in this. We have a large number of things we're responsible for, and we'd be very happy to help you. If we had had some forewarning that you were interested in this topic, but we had no such forewarning and so we simply don't have the paperwork with us.

Senator McALLISTER: Okay. I'll be looking to discuss it at another time, so let's consider this forewarning. I might leave my questions there, because I can see we're not going to be getting any further.

Senator KITCHING: What I might do is move to something that came up at estimates, Senator Brandis, last time, where you stated—let me just find this. You said:

… it is very appropriate for backbench members of parliament to receive remuneration from third-party sources not inconsistent with their responsibility as members of parliament. It's both consistent and commonplace.

Senator Brandis: Yes, I remember saying that.

Senator KITCHING: So does the PM consider it consistent and commonplace for current serving government members and senators to receive a salary from a third party?

Senator Brandis: I didn't say salary. As you always do, Senator Kitching, you have misstated the evidence. Let me tell you—

Senator KITCHING: Remuneration is what you said.

CHAIR: Order! Senator Kitching. Let Senator Brandis answer the question.

Senator Brandis: I said remuneration; you said salary—that's a big difference.

Senator KITCHING: So remuneration—

CHAIR: Order!

Senator Brandis: Let me give you an example of what I had in mind when I made that commonplace observation. A number of my colleagues—and I wouldn't be surprised if some of yours as well—receive income, because they are primary producers and they have rural properties like farms. I can think of some National Party members like that. The farms are managed often by their wives, or they may have a manager installed on the farm. But, nevertheless, they derive an income or remuneration from the farm.

Senator KITCHING: But you didn't say income, Senator Brandis—and I'll give you the common dictionary definition.

Senator Brandis: Senator Kitching—

Senator KITCHING: Remuneration—money paid for work or a service—

Senator Brandis: I regard income and remuneration as synonymous. They derive income or remuneration from their farm. Or there may be backbench members of parliament, who are professional men or women, who continue to practise their profession in a limited way like, for example, as doctors, to maintain their professional credentials. In my own case, when I came here, I continued to practice at the bar for a short while after I was appointed to the Senate on a limited basis not inconsistent with my parliamentary duties and indeed was encouraged to do so by the then Prime Minister John Howard. So that's what I had in mind—deriving. And of course a lot of members of parliament derive income from investments like shares, managed investment funds or whatever. So that's what I had in mind, and it's entirely commonplace.

Senator KITCHING: But just so we're clear, Senator Brandis, the common dictionary definition of remuneration is money paid for work or a service. Synonyms: payment, pay, salary, wages—

Senator Brandis: Senator Kitching, I'm—

Senator KITCHING: Earnings.

Senator Brandis: not going to have any patience with a silly semantic argument with you when I—

Senator KITCHING: Well you were the one who started it—

Senator Brandis: used the word remuneration, and I do regard it as synonymous with the word income.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. Good to know that you can semanticise with the best of them. Do you consider it appropriate—I think your word was commonplace?

Senator Brandis: Consider what appropriate?

Senator KITCHING: Receiving—

Senator Brandis: For members of parliament to receive income from sources other than their parliamentary salary—

Senator KITCHING: You didn't say income; what you said was remuneration.

Senator Brandis: is not inconsistent with their parliamentary duties, yes, I do.

Senator KITCHING: If it's so commonplace and it's all A-okay, would you be able to provide us with a list of those government backbenchers who receive remuneration from other sources?

Senator Brandis: No, I won't be doing that, because you can look for yourself on the Register of Members' Interests, where there is an entry in the Register of Members' Interests which specifically contemplates and provides for that.

Senator KITCHING: Well, can you ensure all of those registers of interests are accurate and up to date.

Senator Brandis: Sorry?

Senator KITCHING: Perhaps you could listen, and this would—

Senator Brandis: I was talking to Dr Gruen.

Senator KITCHING: Can you confirm that all of the government senators' and members' registers of interests are accurate and up to date?

Senator Brandis: I'm sure they are.

Senator KITCHING: But can you please confirm that.

Senator Brandis: No, it's not for me to do your work for you, Senator.

Senator KITCHING: Are there any ministers who receive remuneration or income from other sources?

Senator Brandis: Well, I know from my general awareness that there are some of my ministerial colleagues who, for example, hold shares in companies from which they receive dividends.

Senator KITCHING: Leaving aside shares as a source of income, what about other remuneration?

Senator Brandis: I don't know, but I can confirm that all ministers in the Turnbull government are compliant with the Statement of Ministerial Standards, which makes explicit provision for this.

Senator KITCHING: Yes, it does under 2.19 and 2.20. So they're supposed to 'withdraw from any professional practice or the day-to-day management of any business'.

Senator Brandis: Yes, that's right. That's what it says. That's right. None of my ministerial colleagues are practicing their profession or managing a business, and they are compliant with the obligation. You were asking me before about backbenchers, who are obviously in a different position.

Senator KITCHING: Yes. That's correct. That's why I distinguished them. Now I might go on to the acting arrangements.

Senator Brandis: I might add that another source of income, which is very respectable and indeed a time-honoured tradition of men and women in politics—at least the better educated ones—is to derive royalty income from books. A number of my colleagues in the government and your colleagues in the Labor Party have published books from which, no doubt, they derive royalty income.

Senator KITCHING: Just so we're clear, I consider 'remuneration' a narrower term than 'income'.

Senator Brandis: Well, I don't.

Senator KITCHING: Could I move to the arrangements for the Acting Prime Minister or for the Prime Minister, because he's overseas currently, or was. He's back now, I think.

Senator Brandis: He's here.

Senator KITCHING: There was a media release from the Prime Minister's website which is dated 9 November 2017, and it indicates the Prime Minister was overseas on the following dates: the 10th to the 11th in Da Nang in Vietnam, 12 November in Hong Kong, and 14 November in the Philippines at the East Asia Summit. Were there any additional events or meetings or countries visited?

Ms Ganly : No, they were the three countries visited on this trip.

Senator KITCHING: The date isn't mentioned in his media release, but I note from a transcript on his website that he gave a press conference in Manila. Is that correct?

Ms Ganly : I believe so.

Senator KITCHING: Which departmental staff travelled with the Prime Minister?

Ms Ganly : To my knowledge, the only departmental staff member from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was Hugh Jeffrey, Acting First Assistant Secretary of International Division.

Senator KITCHING: In PM&C?

Ms Ganly : That's correct.

Senator KITCHING: Were there any other meetings on the side of the conferences which he attended? Conferences and meetings—let's call APEC a meeting.

Ms Yu : Yes, as is the normal practice, the Prime Minister has a number of bilateral meetings with his counterparts. He takes advantage of the fact that the global world leaders are there in the same place. There were a number of meetings that were held in the margins of the two major summits that you mentioned there—the APEC meeting in Da Nang in Vietnam and the EAS in the Philippines.

Senator KITCHING: What about in Hong Kong?

Ms Yu : While in Hong Kong, during a very, very packed program, the Prime Minister attended a number of events, as well as organising meetings with the officials of the Hong Kong administration.

Senator KITCHING: On what date did the Prime Minister depart Australia?

Ms Yu : I might have to take that on notice to provide you with specific information, or if you would allow us a little bit of time we can get that for you.

Senator KITCHING: That would be great. Thank you. When did the Prime Minister return to Australia?

Ms Ganly : This morning.

Senator KITCHING: I notice that the Minister for Foreign Affairs was the Acting Prime Minister on Monday this week, 13 November. I note from Monday's Journals of the Senate, where it refers to the President's commission to administer an oath or affirmation and the commission from the Governor-General, it states:

By His Excellency’s Command

Julie Bishop

Acting Prime Minister.

That's dated 13 November. She was the Acting Prime Minister. Was Ms Bishop the Acting Prime Minister for the entire time Mr Turnbull was overseas?

Ms Yu : Yes, I believe so, although it's more Ms Cass's responsibility.

Senator Brandis: I can tell you, Senator: she was.

Senator KITCHING: I have a media release from the foreign minister's website, which is dated 7 November, and that indicates the foreign minister was overseas on 7 and 8 November and also in Vietnam for APEC.

Senator Brandis: No. She had arrived back in the country before the Prime Minister left.

Ms Yu : We can provide you with information about the Prime Minister's departure, which was 9 November.

Senator KITCHING: 9 November.

Ms Yu : That's correct.

Senator KITCHING: If Ms Bishop had also been overseas, who would the Acting Prime Minister have been?

Senator Brandis: Well, she wasn't.

Senator KITCHING: But if she was, who would be?

Senator Brandis: That's a hypothetical question, Senator. She wasn't.

Senator KITCHING: Maybe you could provide the precedence list, which we've been trying to obtain since 2013. If the Prime Minister is away and the Deputy Prime Minister is away—

Senator Brandis: I'm sorry, Senator Kitching, but the precedence list was tabled in this committee.

Senator KITCHING: When?

Senator Brandis: On 23 May this year.

Senator KITCHING: 23 May—

Senator Brandis: this year.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. Do you have a copy of it here?

Ms Cass : That was the acting arrangements for authorisation.

Senator Brandis: Can we table that?

Ms Cass : We can retable that. That was tabled in May.

Senator Brandis: It's been tabled before, Senator, but here we are; we'll give it to you again.

Senator KITCHING: We might just wait for that. I notice, firstly, in fact that this hasn't been updated since the former Deputy Prime Minister had to resign. Has it been updated since his resignation?

Senator Brandis: I understand not.

Senator KITCHING: So let's remove him from this list. So, if the Prime Minister is away, and obviously the Honourable Barnaby Joyce is no longer relevant, then it goes to Ms Bishop, and then you, Senator Brandis, are the next person on the authorisation list?

Senator Brandis: That's right.

Senator KITCHING: What about Senator Scullion? Does he come after—if you're away is he the next, because I note—

Senator Brandis: The document speaks for itself. That is the only operative document, which is to be read, as you have said, for the time being without regard to Mr Joyce.

Senator KITCHING: Did he think it should be updated?

Senator Brandis: I don't have an opinion.

Senator KITCHING: You don't have an opinion about whether what is a reasonably important document should be updated when the former Prime Minister has had to resign because he can't comply with the Constitution?

Senator Brandis: It's a legal document, and it is free of ambiguity.

Senator KITCHING: Actually, it's not accurate.

Senator Brandis: It's free of ambiguity.

Senator KITCHING: But it's not accurate, because it's not updated. It still has Barnaby Joyce on there, and, as we know, presumably he can't actually be authorised to act because he's had to resign and is running in a by-election.

Senator Brandis: We've certainly been able to accommodate that by the appointment of Ms Bishop as the Acting Prime Minister

Senator KITCHING: I notice in the Ministerial Representation List in the Senate Notice Paper dated 14 November 2017 that Senator Scullion is listed as interim Leader of The Nationals. Is there any occasion when he would be the Acting Prime Minister or the Acting Deputy PM, as former senator Ms Nash once described herself?

Senator Brandis: At the moment we don't have an Acting Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is in Australia, and in the event of him being absent from Australia the arrangements that obtained last week and earlier this week would obtain—that is, Ms Bishop would be the Acting Prime Minister.

Senator KITCHING: Was Ms Bishop required to return to Australia earlier than she may have because there was no-one else to act as Prime Minister?

Senator Brandis: Well, that's demonstrably true, but I don't know the answer to your question.

Senator KITCHING: Could you take it on notice?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Was Australia's ability to derive maximum benefit from the summits compromised because of the absence of the foreign minister?

Senator Brandis: She wasn't absent. She attended the part of the summit relevant to her. I am quite certain the answer to your question is no.

Senator KITCHING: So she wasn't necessary, in fact?

Ms Yu : Perhaps I could answer. The summit is actually aimed at leaders, and more often than not foreign ministers do not accompany all leaders. Different countries are different, but certainly in Australia's case we do not have the foreign minister accompanying the Prime Minister for the East Asia Summit or the APEC summit.

Senator KITCHING: But according to her media release, she was attending the APEC ministerial meeting in Da Nang?

Ms Yu : That's right—which is for the foreign ministers and the ministers, not for the leaders.

Senator KITCHING: So that did go for two days only?

Ms Yu : I'm not sure about the exact details.

Senator KITCHING: Could you take it on notice? Could you find out whether it went beyond 8 November? What are the arrangements for the appointment of an Acting Prime Minister? Does the Prime Minister sign a letter? Is that how it works?

Dr Gruen : We can get you the answer for that.

Mr Rush : The department supports the Prime Minister's office on arrangements, which include correspondence from the Prime Minister's office to the Office of the Governor-General, and correspondence between the Prime Minister's office and the office of the minister that is acting as Prime Minister.

Senator KITCHING: Is that paperwork available?

Mr Rush : I don't have paperwork of that kind with me, and, of course, those letters would be made on a case by case basis. There would have been letters to that effect for the period between 9 and 15 November that has just gone.

Senator KITCHING: Is it not gazetted? I couldn't find anything

Mr Rush : No.

Senator KITCHING: Could we get a copy of those?

Mr Rush : I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Is the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives also notified?

Mr Rush : No. Certainly not in correspondence prepared by the department. There may be other communications that the department is not involved in.

Senator KITCHING: I want to turn to the current ministry arrangements. There have obviously been a number of changes recently, so I'm referring to a list dated 13 November, which was tabled by Senator Brandis in the Senate on Monday. Do you have a copy of that?

Ms Cass : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: I want to run through the changes just to make sure we're on the same page. So Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash are disqualified. Senator Ryan has resigned to become President of the Senate.

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Senator Canavan has been restored to the ministry as Minister for Resources and Northern Australia.

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Mr Turnbull's added Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources to his existing responsibilities, and that's from Mr Joyce? Is that correct?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Mr Chester added Acting Minister for Regional Development and Acting Minister for Local Government and Territories to his existing responsibilities from former Senator Nash?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Senator Fifield has added Acting Minister for Regional Communications to his existing responsibilities from former Senator Nash. Senator Cormann has added Acting Special Minister of State to his existing responsibilities from Senator Ryan?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Mr Hartsuyker went from being—

Senator Brandis: Honestly, the document is available.

Senator KITCHING: There are so many, I just want to clarify this.

Senator Brandis: You're reading from it. It's a public document.

Senator KITCHING: I think we're nearly finished.

Senator Brandis: I've answered every one of your questions to me. The document speaks for itself.

Senator KITCHING: Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister to Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. In addition I believe Senator Cash is acting for Senator Sinodinos whilst he's on leave, is that correct?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Like all senators, it would be good to see him back soon. How many changes have been made to the ministry since Mr Turnbull became Prime Minister on 15 September, 2017?

Senator Brandis: I don't know. I'll take it on notice. 2015?

Senator KITCHING: Yes, 2015. Why is Mr Turnbull the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources but the other ministers are acting ministers?

Senator Brandis: I don't know. I'll take it on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Are some sworn and some not?

Ms P Lynch : Mr Chester and Senator Fifield are sworn to the entire portfolios, as are other ministers in portfolios. They're sworn to administer the whole department when they're appointed.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. No, that makes sense. Thank you. Is there any difference in ministerial power or responsibility between a sworn minister and an acting one?

Ms P Lynch : Acting ministers—and in the case, I think, of Senator Nash—would be acting under authorisations given under the Acts Interpretation Act. A minister authorises another minister, under the Acts Interpretation Act, to act on their behalf, similar to when a minister travels and another minister acts in their position.

Senator KITCHING: Just so I can think of it in another way, Mr Joyce was in charge of a department, but former Senator Nash was not? Is that correct?

Ms P Lynch : No. Every minister who is appointed will be appointed to administer a department. Each minister in a portfolio is sworn to administer the department of the relevant portfolios. Senator Nash would have been sworn to administer the Department of Communications and the Arts in her capacity as the Minister for Regional Communications. They take up the whole portfolio, if you like.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. Are the arrangements for Senator Cash acting on behalf of Senator Sinodinos different?

Ms P Lynch : Senator Cash is from outside Senator Sinodinos's portfolio, so she is acting under an Acts Interpretation Act instrument. She's not sworn to administer the department of industry.

Senator KITCHING: Is the paperwork around these arrangements publicly available?

Ms P Lynch : In the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet we don't necessarily have copies of the acting instruments that ministers in one portfolio use for another minister in another portfolio. So I don't have them with me and would not necessarily have them.

Senator KITCHING: So it's not gazetted?

Ms P Lynch : No.

Senator KITCHING: I couldn't find anything. Okay. Could we get a copy of those arrangements?

Ms P Lynch : I can take that on notice. We would not necessarily have them all. For example, when a minister travels, we know that they have another minister acting for them, but that's an arrangement that's usually made between the ministers' offices rather than through PM&C.

Senator KITCHING: Okay. Mr Hartsuyker's duties as Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources—what are those duties, for a start, given that Senator Ruston also has that title?

Ms P Lynch : I'd need to take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: If you could take that on notice, that would be good. In addition to that, has he gained responsibilities from Senator Ruston?

Ms P Lynch : I'd need to take that on notice, because that would be a matter between the ministers in the portfolio, how they divide it up day to day.

Senator KITCHING: If I wanted to know if he was in the seat of New England, for example, would you have that as well? Perhaps Mr Hartsuyker has been spending time in the New England electorate during the by-election. That is what I'm really asking. Was he given that portfolio in order that he might spend some time there? So I'd like to know what the arrangements are: what are the differences; why do both of them have the same title? Is it just an arrangement of convenience so he can be out and about, helping the former Deputy Prime Minister?

Ms P Lynch : Mr Hartsuyker has been in that portfolio since, I think, the election.

Ms Cass : That's right. That has not been a change.

Senator KITCHING: Just on former Senator Nash—did you say that's under the Acts Interpretation Act?

Ms P Lynch : Senator Cash acting for Senator Sinodinos, I understand, would be.

Senator KITCHING: No, no, Nash.

Ms P Lynch : Senator Nash was disqualified, and Senator Fifield added Acting Minister for Regional Communications to his existing responsibilities. That was from former Senator Nash. Because he's sworn to the communications portfolio and sworn to administer the Department of Communication and the Arts, he has all of the relevant powers in the portfolio. He doesn't need to be authorised to exercise powers, because each minister in a portfolio has the full range of powers in the portfolio.

Senator KITCHING: Otherwise, it would be difficult for her to delegate her responsibilities, if she's no longer in the Senate.

Ms P Lynch : He's doing it because in his capacity he's been sworn to administer the department of communications.

Senator KITCHING: What did Mr Hartsuyker do as the assistant minister to the former Deputy Prime Minister?

Ms P Lynch : I would need to take on notice as to what the arrangements were or how the agriculture portfolio divided matters between the ministers in it.

Senator KITCHING: Senator McGrath became the Assistant Minister for Regulatory Reform in addition to being the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, but that role wasn't listed on the 27 July 2017 Ministry List.

Ms P Lynch : No, that was an additional title.

Ms Cass : My understanding is that that additional title was authorised by the Prime Minister on 26 March 2017—we can verify that.

Senator KITCHING: That would be good, because I don't think it's listed on the 27 July list. What does he do in each of those roles?

Senator Brandis: I think the best way to inform yourself about that is to have a look at the administrative arrangements, which is a public document.

Senator KITCHING: So you can't add further information, Senator Brandis?

Senator Brandis: I'm just directing you to where you can find that out from a public document.

Senator KITCHING: It's difficult when it doesn't seem to be listed earlier. If Ms Cass could find those documents, that would be good. On Senator McGrath's website, it says:

I now live in Flaxton up on the range, where I am balancing running my new business with renovating my home and pottering around in the garden.

What is Senator McGrath's business?

Senator Brandis: I don't know. I imagine it might have something to do with primary production.

Senator KITCHING: That would be remuneration, would it?

Senator Brandis: I don't know if he receives any income from it

Senator KITCHING: Or income?

Senator Brandis: I don't know if he receives an income from it.

Senator KITCHING: Different words, though. Does the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet have a role in advising ministers and assistant ministers about conflicts of interest?

Ms Cass : I don't believe that we play that role. Yes, there may be instances in which the Prime Minister, under the Statement of Ministerial Standards, will seek advice from the secretary of the department about the application of the standards. That has occurred on occasions.

Senator KITCHING: What occasions?

Senator Brandis: Those are probably private matters. If there have been any during the life of this government, I don't know. We'll take that on notice and think about, if there have been any instances, whether we can tell you about them.

Senator KITCHING: Perhaps while you're taking that on notice, Senator Brandis, you could tell us whether any advice has been provided to Senator McGrath?

Senator Brandis: About what?

Senator KITCHING: Whether any advice has been provided to Senator McGrath?

Senator Brandis: About what?

Senator KITCHING: About whether there is a conflict of interest given that he says:

I am balancing running my new business with renovating my home and pottering around in the garden.

Senator Brandis: Senator McGrath has, I understand, acquired a rural property. As I said before, I imagine there may be some horticulture. I don't know.

Senator KITCHING: Going back to your point, Senator Brandis, there might be information online about his role. I'll read you more of Senator McGrath's statement. It says:

More recently, I was the LNP's campaign director and was fortunate to lead a great team of staff and volunteers into an historic victory. Our March 24 result reinforced my view, that anything is achievable when people come together and work for a common goal. We can do the same in the Federal Senate representing Queensland's interests.

Why does Senator McGrath's biography on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet's website read more like a political puff piece than a legitimate summary of the assistant minister's skills and experience?

Senator Brandis: As it happens, I've just been contacted by Senator McGrath, on my mobile phone, who advises me that the biography was an old biography from before he became a senator which had not been updated. All of the propositions you've put would appear to be founded on the mistaken belief that this is a contemporary biography. It isn't.

Senator KITCHING: Well, how else am I supposed to—it says 'About the minister' with a very nice photograph.

Senator Brandis: I've just told you what the facts are.

CHAIR: He'd be flattered to hear that, Senator Kitching.

Senator KITCHING: What I am going to ask you is: do you think that kind of political spin is appropriate for the website of the principal department of the Australian Public Service?

Senator Brandis: I've not seen the document or the website to which you refer, so I have no comment to make about it.

Senator KITCHING: I'm happy to table it. Would you like it?

Senator Brandis: That's a matter for you, Senator, but I don't propose to offer any comment.

Senator KITCHING: Who's responsible for checking material such as this? Is it the Prime Minister's office or PM&C?

Senator Brandis: I don't know who hosts the website. Perhaps the department knows who hosts the website.

Dr Gruen : We could find out.

Senator Brandis: We'll find out who hosts the website.

Ms Ganly : I'm not sure until I see the article, but certainly—

Senator KITCHING: I'm very happy to table it.

Ms Ganly : the PM&C website and the pm.gov.au websites are managed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet within my division.

Senator KITCHING: So it is PM&C who is responsible?

Ms Ganly : I'd have to check which website it's on.

Senator KITCHING: That's fair enough.

Senator McALLISTER: The link is: ministers.pmc.gov.au/mcgrath. I assume that is managed by Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Ms Ganly : Yes, it sounds like it's one that we would manage.

Senator McALLISTER: So, in fact, Senator Brandis, Senator Kitching is relying on the public information published by Prime Minister and Cabinet, which isn't entirely unreasonable, is it?

Senator Brandis: I've just pointed out that the biography is an old biography which predates Senator McGrath becoming a senator, let alone a minister.

Senator McALLISTER: Which does raise the question about why it remains on the Prime Minister and Cabinet website, does it not?

Senator Brandis: That's what you've just asked me.

Senator KITCHING: I presume the 24 March result he's referring to is from 2012. Now, obviously, as you—

Senator Brandis: I don't know.

Senator KITCHING: would know better than most, Senator Brandis, there has been another election since 24 March 2012. There was one in late January 2015, and there was obviously a change of government in Queensland.

Senator Brandis: I think that makes my point even more strongly—that this is an obsolete biography.

Senator KITCHING: It does, but it also makes my point—that, really, it should have been updated. And why has there not been a media release issued by Senator McGrath since 18 August?

Senator Brandis: I think that's a spectacularly powerful point you make.

Senator KITCHING: I realise that the government has been under significant pressure, but perhaps you could update the website or ensure it is updated, because I presume the department is not actually responsible; it's the ministers and the assistant ministers who are responsible for providing some of this information. The department is just doing what it can with a bad lot of information.

Senator Brandis: I don't know, Senator—

Senator KITCHING: I'm sure you don't.

Senator Brandis: who chose this particular biography. I'm just letting you know, as you pointed out yourself in your—

Senator KITCHING: Ms Ganly, did you choose this biography?

Ms Ganly : This will be a link, I understand. What I will do is have a look. I'll see if I can get some further information for you now from my staff. Otherwise, I'll get back to you. I'll have this looked at as well.

Senator KITCHING: Maybe also, Ms Ganly, you could take on notice when the other biographies that are on that website were updated. I think you'd be able to track when changes were made to the website and the dates on which those changes were made. Perhaps Senator Brandis might like to update his as well. His might also be—

Senator Brandis: I'm not a minister sworn to the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I'm the Attorney-General, so my department is the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator KITCHING: We'll save you for AGD, Senator Brandis.

Ms Ganly : So the ones on the pmc.gov.au website are the ones that we would link to in our department. As Senator Brandis has said, they're ones relating to ministers sworn to our portfolio.

Senator KITCHING: So the ones on the PM&C website, perhaps you could see when they were last—

Ms Ganly : Yes, certainly.

Senator KITCHING: And can you inform us as to when they were last updated?

Ms Ganly : We'll certainly do that.

Senator KITCHING: That would be useful.

Senator Brandis: It's a very inspiring life story actually, now that I read it, Senator Kitching.

Senator KITCHING: I thought it was very interesting. I actually know someone else from Bli Bli, so I thought that was good.

Senator McALLISTER: Senator Brandis, I want to ask you about the decision today that Ms Hollie Hughes is ineligible to take up former Senator Nash's seat. I note that on 1 November you were reported in The Australian as having told ABC Radio, such is the state of journalism today:

The relevant date for these purposes, for determining whether or not there is a Section 44 issue, is the date upon which the person is declared to be elected.

You indicated that she would be okay to take that seat because she had already resigned from the AAT before the High Court made its ruling. What was the basis of your statement to the media?

Senator Brandis: Senator, I'm advised that although the High Court has given its decision, it has not published its reasons; hence, it's not been possible for me to consider the reasons, because they are yet to be published. Until I do, I'm not going to comment on it.

Senator McALLISTER: I'm asking a process question about what the basis was for it, whether you had any legal advice that supported your decision to make a public statement?

Senator Brandis: As you know, Senator, if we've taken legal advice, the rule is that we don't comment on either the content or the fact of legal advice, so I wouldn't be able to respond to that.

Senator McALLISTER: We actually went to this earlier in the questioning, with Senator Fierravanti-Wells. The government's present position is that it is sometimes willing to provide the entire content of legal advice in some circumstances.

Senator Brandis: That's not my position, and I'm the Attorney-General. If exceptions are made, they would be made on a case-by-case basis. I don't recall making any exceptions myself since I've been the Attorney-General.

Senator KITCHING: By whom? So when those exceptions have been made, who has made that decision?

Senator Brandis: Ordinarily that decision would be made by me.

Senator KITCHING: Right, but that's not what I asked you. What I asked you was: when the exceptions have been made, who makes that decision?

Senator Brandis: What decision?

Senator KITCHING: The decision to release advice.

Senator Brandis: I've said that no exceptions have been made by me.

Senator KITCHING: But we know there has been, because advice has been released previously.

Senator McALLISTER: Just to distinguish then between advice provided by the Solicitor-General and other advice provided to government: in the last couple of days, advice has been released from a former Solicitor-General in relation to Labor MPs and their eligibility to sit.

Senator Brandis: That wasn't advice obtained by the government, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER: Is that right? Who was it obtained by?

Senator Brandis: Are you talking about the advice of Dr Bennett?

Senator McALLISTER: Yes, I am.

Senator Brandis: That wasn't obtained by the government.

Senator McALLISTER: Can you tell me who it was obtained by, because, as I understand it, it has been released by the Prime Minister?

Senator Brandis: No, I can't tell you who it was obtained by, because I don't know.

Senator McALLISTER: It has been part of the government's public strategy and the Prime Minister's public strategy to prosecute a set of arguments around constitutionality and the resolution of the crisis. Are you telling me you don't know how the Prime Minister came to be in possession of that advice?

Senator Brandis: I'm not a political commentator, Senator. All I'm saying is that—

Senator McALLISTER: Well, you're here representing the Prime Minister.

Senator Brandis: the opinion obtained from Dr Bennett was not obtained by the Commonwealth of Australia.

Senator McALLISTER: So your advice to this committee is that for legal advice obtained by the Commonwealth of Australia, you will not provide the content or comment on the fact of such advice?

Senator Brandis: That's the general position. I've looked at Dr Bennett's advice, by the way. I've seen a copy of it. It doesn't identify the querist.

Senator McALLISTER: Can I just ask then about Mr Turnbull's earlier decision in the parliament to speak about the Solicitor-General's advice in relation to Mr Joyce? Is that consistent with the answer you just provided about not commenting on the fact of legal advice or its content?

Senator Brandis: I think it's a notorious fact that when there are important constitutional questions before the High Court, the Solicitor-General appears for the Commonwealth of Australia and it is a commonplace fact that, as a matter of routine, lawyers give advice on important matters in which they are briefed.

Senator McALLISTER: I go back to my original question in relation to your public remarks around Ms Hughes and her eligibility under section 44. Can I ask you again: what was the basis of you making a public statement in that regard?

Senator Brandis: I don't even understand the question, Senator.

Senator McALLISTER: You confidently declared to ABC radio that Senator Hughes—

Senator Brandis: Confidently?

Senator McALLISTER: I can table the article. It's a very confident tone, Senator Brandis. That's very common for you.

Senator Brandis: A lot has been going on in the last few weeks. I don't presently recall that particular interview, but if you say that you have a transcript of it, that's fine, but I'm not going to comment on it. All right?

Senator McALLISTER: Can I ask you then about Ms Hughes's appointment to the AAT.

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator McALLISTER: That was your decision?

Senator Brandis: No. It was the decision of the Federal Executive Council on the advice of the cabinet.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you. Can you just talk me through, from a process perspective, how we get to such an appointment, then?

Senator Brandis: The Governor-General receives advice on appointments at meetings of the Federal Executive Council. That advice comes from cabinet. Portfolio ministers routinely bring forward names to cabinet for agencies or appointees within their portfolio.

Senator McALLISTER: So this was an appointment from within the Attorney-General's portfolio. Is that correct?

Senator Brandis: The Administrative Appeals Tribunal is an organ of government, which is an Attorney-General's portfolio organ of government.

Senator McALLISTER: Can I ask then about the role of Prime Minister and Cabinet, because this is not the Attorney-General's estimates; it is Prime Minister and Cabinet. Does Prime Minister and Cabinet play a role in reviewing a list of potential candidates for appointment to the AAT, or is there just one—

Ms Cass : I believe we see those proposals put forward by responsible ministers and provide them to the Prime Minister for consideration prior to them going into cabinet.

Senator McALLISTER: So the Prime Minister and his office would have an opportunity to review the list before it was submitted to cabinet?

Ms Cass : They would, just as they tend to look at all cabinet submissions before they go into cabinet. It's part of the normal course of preparing for cabinet consideration.

Senator McALLISTER: Were any concerns raised about appointing Hollie Hughes to an office of profit under the Crown?

Ms Cass : I cannot give you that information.

Senator McALLISTER: Was advice sought from the department by the Prime Minister's office in relation to any issues around appointing Ms Hughes to an office of profit under the Crown?

Dr Gruen : Senator, as a matter of course, as Ms Cass has said, when appointments come forward the department knows about those appointments and provides advice to the Prime Minister, if it's relevant.

Senator Brandis: And it wouldn't have been relevant, Senator, because, although I don't remember the date on which Ms Hughes was appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, I'm quite sure it was before the creation of the vacancy by the disqualification of Senator Nash. So Ms Hughes had been, as far as she knew, an unsuccessful Senate candidate at the 2 July 2016 election.

Senator McALLISTER: When Senator Nash's case commenced, did you contact Ms Hughes, Senator Brandis?

Senator Brandis: When Ms Nash's case commenced—not that I recall.

Senator McALLISTER: Did the Prime Minister contact Ms Hughes?

Senator Brandis: I don't know.

Senator McALLISTER: Would you take that on notice, Senator Brandis?

Senator Brandis: I'll take it on notice, but it's not the sort of question I would imagine either I or the Prime Minister would respond to if it's about a private conversation.

Senator McALLISTER: I'm interested to understand whether—

Senator Brandis: I know Ms Hughes, by the way. I do know Ms Hughes. I've spoken with Ms Hughes from time to time in my life. But regarding the answer to your specific question—when the Nash matter arose, did I contact Ms Hughes?—not to the best of my recollection.

Senator McALLISTER: I'm interested to understand whether anyone contacted Ms Hughes and explained to her that she would be able to take the Senate seat if she resigned from the AAT. Was that information communicated to Ms Hughes?

Senator Brandis: I'll take the question on notice for the purpose of considering whether it's a question that can be responded to.

Senator McALLISTER: It's been reported that Ms Hughes resigned from her position on the AAT 45 minutes after the High Court ruled that former Senator Nash was ineligible. Is that true?

Senator Brandis: I don't know. I've not seen that report and I'm not aware.

Senator McALLISTER: Would you take that on notice?

Senator Brandis: Yes, although I should say that these questions do seem to be rather remote from PM&C.

Senator McALLISTER: Well, I was trying to establish the role the Prime Minister may have played in this, and you've been unable to provide any advice. You've taken those questions on notice, so—

Senator Brandis: Look, I don't know, Senator McAllister. Ms Hughes is a member of the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party, as is the Prime Minister. I'm sure they know each other.

Senator McALLISTER: I wanted to ask some questions around the Lobbying Code of Conduct. There's obviously been quite some commentary around Mr Larry Anthony. I assume, Senator Brandis, that you're aware of Mr Anthony's position as the National Party president.

Senator Brandis: I know Mr Anthony. I am aware that he is the current federal president of the National Party.

Senator McALLISTER: And you're aware that that entails him sitting on the Federal Management Committee of the National Party?

Senator Brandis: Well, although I don't profess to be an expert on the structure of the National Party organisation, I understand that the national executive is called the Federal Management Committee, so I imagine that the president sits on it.

Senator McALLISTER: Indeed. Are you aware of Mr Anthony's directorship of SAS Group Consulting Proprietary Limited?

Senator Brandis: No, I'm not. I'm aware that at one time Mr Anthony had an interest in a firm of that name. Whether he still does or not I just don't know.

Senator McALLISTER: Are you aware that SAS Group Consulting Proprietary Limited appears on the lobbyists register representing a number of companies?

Senator Brandis: I don't know—actually, Dr Gruen tells me that it does.

Senator McALLISTER: Thank you. I understand that those interests include coal and gas interests and the company that operates the cashless welfare card trials. Is that correct, Dr Gruen?

Dr Gruen : I'm not sure what interests it has. We'll have a look and see if we can let you know about that.

Senator McALLISTER: The Lobbying Code of Conduct is very clear that you may not be a lobbyist and a member of a federal or state executive. Can you explain to me how Mr Anthony can continue serving in both roles, as a director of SAS Group Consulting and as a member of the National Party federal executive?

Senator Brandis: I think the best course is to take that question on notice so we can look at the matter carefully. I don't know what the relationship between Mr Anthony and SAS is. So let us have a look at that.

Dr Gruen : Senator, I can give you some information on that, if it would be helpful.

Senator McALLISTER: Thanks.

Dr Gruen : Mr Anthony took himself off the lobbyists register in September 2015 prior to taking up his position as National Party president in October. The SAS group submitted a request to remove Mr Anthony on 8 September 2015 through the lobbyists register. The department approved this request on 9 September. Mr Anthony was then no longer listed on the register as a lobbyist. The Lobbying Code of Conduct does not allow members of a political party executive to be included as lobbyists on the register, and the SAS consulting group has four registered lobbyists. The secretary wrote to the responsible officer of the SAS group, Mr Peter Constantini, on 9 October 2017 seeking assurance that details of their lobbyists are complete and up to date and that the SAS group and its lobbyists continues to comply with the code. Mr Peter Constantini responded on 11 October 2017 confirming that the details contained within their register of lobbyists are complete and up to date.

Senator McALLISTER: Is it possible to table that correspondence, Dr Gruen?

Ms Cass : We can table that correspondence.

Senator McALLISTER: Senator Wong I think wrote to the department seeking that the matter be investigated. So there has been some action taken by the department seeking assurances. Sorry—it was Senator Farrell who sought that the matter be investigated. Assurances were sought following that letter?

Dr Gruen : Yes. Senator Farrell wrote to the secretary on 11 October. And the secretary responded on 18 October.

Ms Cass : So the letter was received on the 11th.

Senator McALLISTER: Given that Mr Anthony still appears as a director on the website of the firm in question, is the department satisfied that the assurances provided by SAS Group Consulting are accurate and reflect accurately their obligations under the code? I ask that because the code says:

For the purposes of the Register of Lobbyists, a lobbyist is any person, company or organisation who conducts lobbying activities on behalf of a third-party client or whose employees conduct lobbying activities on behalf of a third-party client.

Senator Brandis: Well, the employer of the employees is the company, not the director.

Senator McALLISTER: So, the new test is that if you wish to be a lobbyist but you do not wish to be caught by the Lobbying Code of Conduct you merely become a director of the company and that solves all of those problems? That makes it meaningless, Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: But Senator McAllister, I didn't say that. I merely pointed out that if you are the director of a company and that company employs people then the employer is the company. That's the legal entity that's the employer, not the directors.

Senator McALLISTER: So, your position is that the founding director of a lobbying firm is not considered a lobbyist or an employer?

Senator Brandis: Well, it all depends on what he does. It's a very simple proposition of law that if a company employs a person as its employee then it is the employer, not a director of the company. And I don't know the circumstance of Mr Anthony's arrangements. I don't know whether he's an executive or a non-executive director, or what arrangements may have been put in place within the governance structures of the company. I simply don't know.

Senator McALLISTER: What is to stop every lobbyist just removing themselves from the register to sidestep the requirements of the code?

Senator Brandis: Well, you're asking for commentary.

Senator McALLISTER: I'm asking about the practical application of the policy.

Senator Brandis: The code speaks for itself. I'm not a political commentator.

Senator McALLISTER: It is a code that is a policy of government. I assume that the policy of the government is that the code be adhered to. I'm not asking you to comment on it. I'm asking you to explain how the policy is intended to work and to secure the governance outcomes.

Senator Brandis: If you're asking me the purpose of the policy, the purpose of the policy is transparency and to avoid conflicts of interest.

Senator McALLISTER: What is the purpose, then, of entirely excluding members of the executive of political parties from being allowed to operate as lobbyists? That's another feature of the code, isn't it?

Senator Brandis: Obviously the authors of the document regard it as serviceable to those broad policy objectives to have such an inclusion.

Senator McALLISTER: How is Mr Anthony not in breach of that clear intention to prevent members of the federal executive of political parties from lobbying—

Senator Brandis: Senator, I'm not sure whether you're making a point or asking me a question. If you're asking me a question, the answer to your question is that I don't know enough about the arrangements that have been put in place within that particular company to be in a position to respond to you.

Senator McALLISTER: Does the department intend to undertake any further investigations to satisfy themselves that these arrangements that Senator Brandis speculates about may or may not be in place?

Dr Gruen : In his letter to the Hon. Don Farrell the secretary makes the point that he has not received any allegation of a breach of the lobbying code by SAS Consulting Group or its registered lobbyists. And then he goes on to say, 'If you are aware of a specific allegation of a breach I ask that you provide me with relevant details.' So, the situation as it is explained in this letter is that if a senator is aware of any specific allegation of a breach then the secretary asks that he be made aware of that. And I presume that no such evidence has been forthcoming.

Senator McALLISTER: So, the department's present position is just to leave things as they are? We've got a founding director of a lobbying firm sitting over a massive architecture of lobbying, sitting on the federal executive of the National Party, and the department's response is that we're satisfied with that situation?

Senator Brandis: That's not what he said, Senator McAllister. You're perfectly entitled to engage in rhetorical flourishes, but you're talking about a massive architecture. I don't know what the significance of him being a founding director is. I remember the circumstances in which that firm was created, and it was created a long time ago. It was originally a partnership of three former politicians: Mr Anthony, the late Con Sciacca and the Hon. Santo Santoro—hence the name SAS. But it was many years ago that the firm was created, so the fact that Mr Anthony may have been one of the founding directors seems to me to be neither here nor there.

CHAIR: I will just note that we're now due to break. Are there any further questions for the department?

Senator McALLISTER: I think we're happy to leave our questions there.

CHAIR: Thank you to the department.

Proceedings suspended from 18 : 32 to 18 : 43