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Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

CHAIR —Good morning and welcome, Minister. Do you have an opening statement?

Senator Faulkner —Yes. I would like to make a brief opening statement for the committee. I hope this will be able to assist the committee in its consideration of a number of the matters that it has before it. The first thing I wanted to do was comment on the responsiveness of the government to the Senate. At the budget estimates hearings in May, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet appeared for three days and took 280 questions on notice. I am pleased to advise the committee that all answers to questions on notice were tabled with the committee by the due date of 11 July 2008. This compares with 102 questions taken on notice at the additional estimates in February this year. Answers to those questions were also tabled by the due date.

That we were able to respond to such a large number of questions on notice by the due date—almost 400 questions after just two estimates rounds—I think is a demonstration of the government’s commitment to transparency. I take this opportunity to thank departmental officers for their work and assistance in ensuring that those questions were answered on time. Obviously answers to questions on notice is one of those important commitments to accountability.

At the May budget hearings of the committee, senators asked me about the status of the Prime Minister’s charter letters to cabinet ministers. I advised the committee at the time that the Prime Minister had earlier this year adopted a program of detailed meetings with each cabinet minister which worked through portfolio commitments, priorities and directions. These meetings provided the basis for each minister’s accountability for their portfolio’s delivery of the government’s agenda.

The government has continued to review the implementation of its priorities and, as you would expect in the light of changing circumstances, its key reform directions. The Prime Minister has publicly set out the key reform directions for the government around five key themes: a stronger Australia with a successful economy, which can best handle the unprecedented global financial crisis; a more secure Australia; a fairer Australia based on equality of opportunity and acting on disadvantage; an Australia capable of meeting future challenges such as climate change; and also a new way of governing. The Prime Minister, in September, provided each cabinet minister with a detailed letter of his expectations of ensuring that election commitments and priorities were delivered. It also outlined the government’s reform agenda and set out how achievements of each portfolio’s responsibility will be monitored and reported to the cabinet. So I hope, Chair, as a brief opening statement that is of some assistance to the committee.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator ABETZ —Minister, thank you for that opening statement.

CHAIR —Sorry, Senator Abetz, Mr Mrdak has some opening comments.

Mr Mrdak —I would just like to update the committee before we begin on the status of the department’s restructure and update the committee on changes to senior staffing arrangements that have occurred since the May hearings. In my opening statement to the committee in May I foreshadowed a number of structural changes that would take effect from 1 July this year. I would like to report to the committee that the new organisational structure for the department has now been put in place.

We now have four groups, each managed by an associate or deputy secretary in the department. The Domestic Policy Group takes in the Economic Division, the Industry, Infrastructure and Environment Division, the Office of Work and Family, the Social Policy Division and the Social Inclusion Unit. It is let by our Associate Secretary, David Tune. The National Security and International Policy Group, under the leadership of Mr Duncan Lewis, remains unchanged but it now includes a new International Strategy Unit. The Strategic Policy and Implementation Group led by Deputy Secretary, Mr Ben Rimmer, comprises the newly created Strategy and Delivery Division and the Cabinet Implementation Unit. The Governance Group, which I lead, takes in the Government Division, the Cabinet Division, the new Ministerial Support Unit and the Corporate Services Division.

We have now implemented the structure the secretary announced in May and filled the key senior positions. As part of this restructure two new divisions have been operating since 1 July in the department: the Strategy and Delivery Division and the Ministerial Support Unit. The Ministerial Support Unit links together existing ministerial support functions in the portfolio including briefings coordination, correspondence and the Official Establishments Unit. These functions were previously scattered across other divisions of the department. The implementation of this restructure now puts in place the changes recommended in the audit undertaken of the department earlier this year by Mr Ron McLeod.

I am pleased to advise the committee that the department tabled its annual report last week, in line with best practice, ahead of the commencement of these Senate hearings. Additionally, on 13 October this year, the department met its tabling requirements in relation to the new Senate order on grants and appointments and vacancies.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you, Minister, for your opening statement. You sought to take credit for the number of answers that had been provided to this committee to questions on notice.

Senator Faulkner —I do not know about taking credit, Senator, I just wanted to outline what the situation was, which is how I would put it.

Senator ABETZ —If I can get the first sentence out without interruption, Chair, we might be able to get on quite well at this Senate estimates. In relation to the whole lot of so-called answers, can I just indicate that smudging black ink on paper next to the word ‘answer’ does not actually mean that an answer has been provided. Allow me if I may, Chair, to go through some questions.

First of all, I refer you to the answer given to question PM8, a question by Senator Fielding. In the answer we were told:

The manner in which successive governments have managed their priorities, including whether charter letters or other approaches are used, has changed from time to time.

I was just wondering if you could tell us which governments in recent history have not used charter letters, other than the Rudd government.

Senator Faulkner —We will just get a copy of the answer first of all.

Senator ABETZ —It is the first sentence of the last paragraph of the answer. Chances are the officers will not know the detail of that. If that could be taken on notice and we could go back to the Fraser government, the Hawke and Keating era and the Howard era, that would be most instructive for the committee.

Senator Faulkner —I think I would refer you back, Senator Abetz, to at least some evidence I gave in the previous estimates round, including my answers to questions with Senator Fielding, who asked about the issue of charter letters. I was able to draw on my own experience as a minister in the Keating government and the approach that was taken with charter letters at that time. I suspect that that is what that paragraph in the answer to question on notice PM8 might at least in part refer to.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you for that. If it could be taken on notice and the committee could be provided with details as to what the exact arrangements were with the Fraser government, the Hawke government, the Keating government and the Howard government, that would be most instructive. I assume officers do not have that with them at the moment.

Senator Faulkner —I am not sure that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet would necessarily have that information available, but what I am happy to do is certainly to ask them to check for you. Any information that we do have available and can assist you with, obviously, we will provide.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you.

Senator Faulkner —But the nature of your question goes back to the charter letters and I cannot say to you whether charter letters were sent when Mr Fraser was—

Senator ABETZ —That is why I asked you to take it on notice.

Senator Faulkner —Indeed. I am just making the point to you: I cannot say to you whether or not charter letters were provided when Mr Fraser was sworn in as Prime Minister in 1975. Within the normal bounds—I am sure you would not want to have a massive make-work response to such a matter—we will certainly try and assist you where we can on this.

Senator ABETZ —Thank you. Chair, I was wondering whether it would be helpful if the minister could try to truncate his answers as much as possible. If we are going to have these very longwinded answers to issues that are agreed to be taken on notice I think it would be helpful for everybody.

CHAIR —Senator Abetz, can I just say from the outset, as I did during the last estimates, I cannot direct the minister on how to answer the questions. But we are all cognisant of the time constraints.

Senator Faulkner —And of course I will try and assist the committee wherever I can.

CHAIR —Thank you, Minister.

Senator ABETZ —In question PM23, it was asked of the government and the minister the actual time spent in the Prime Minister’s office discussing the charter letter with each minister. We were given an answer that, if I might say, was less than responsive. We were told, ‘An indication of the dates scheduled for each meeting is as follows,’ but then ‘some meetings were rescheduled’. We are not told what date those meetings were then held and we are not told which meetings were rescheduled; nor are we told the actual time spent by the Prime Minister with each individual minister. Those are all matters that were specifically asked for and specifically not answered. So I repeat my request that this information be provided to the committee on notice.

Just to make it perfectly clear what I am seeking: in PM24 I asked how long each one of those meetings was. I asked you to take that on notice. I also asked who was present at each meeting. ‘I will ask the Prime Minister if he cares to provide any further information,’ was Senator Faulkner’s response. Of course, the answer is: ‘Please refer to question on notice PM23,’ which, as I have just outlined, is completely non-responsive to the questions that I asked. I know that the minister made an opening statement about how good they were in responding to questions, but quite clearly on the face of it they have been non-responsive. So I am asking you, Minister, and the department to have another go and actually be responsive in detail to all the questions that were raised in PM23 and PM24. Will you do that for me, please?

Senator Faulkner —Obviously question PM23 and question PM24 are related questions, as you appreciate. You have in fact, in answer to PM23, a list of portfolio ministers. The answer does outline the broad approach that was taken here. It indicates that the length of these meetings varied considerably.

Senator ABETZ —That is very helpful when you are not told the times! One minute or one hour?

Senator Faulkner —I am not sure that the information is necessarily available.

Senator ABETZ —But minutes were taken. That is what we were told last time.

Senator Faulkner —I do not know whether the information that you are seeking is available.

Senator ABETZ —If it is not, it can we even be told?

Senator Faulkner —The answer to the primary question in PM23 I think makes that clear. It says that the meetings were generally scheduled to take between 1½ and two hours but the length varied considerably. So quite a deal of research and effort has gone into providing the answer which you have had provided to you. But I am happy to check again for you if there is any more information that has been provided.

Senator ABETZ —If you are, a simple yes—

Senator Faulkner —I am happy to check again, but I can assure you that considerable effort went into preparing the answer that you do have and the information that has been provided to you.

Senator ABETZ —If this represents considerable effort, I would hate to see a lazy effort.

Senator Faulkner —I do not think that is fair. The range of individual—

Senator ABETZ —The meetings were generally scheduled but we were then told that many meetings were rescheduled. If minutes were taken of these meetings, surely we must know in rough terms how long the meetings went for. We do not need to know it down to the exact minutes and seconds, but I would have thought that, out of courtesy to this committee, we could have been told that the Prime Minister met with, let us say, Ms Roxon for 1½ hours on 23 January or for one minute with the Minister for Veteran’s Affairs on another date. I think we are entitled to have that information. If it is not available, that is fine, but then tell us—because what it will do is completely expose the lack of robustness and integrity of these so-called charter letter meetings. But thank you for taking that on notice.

Senator Faulkner —Just so you are clear, Senator, and so that there can be no misunderstanding, the contents of the records, or minutes if you like, of these meetings—it is not like a local Labor Party or Liberal Party branch—go to—

Senator ABETZ —I think there is a very big difference between the two. One fabricates its minutes; the others have authentic minutes.

Senator Faulkner —There may well be but I am trying to make what I think is a substantive point here that it goes to content of matters discussed. I suspect the answer to your question is that the precise times were matters of not-high priority. The dates have been provided to you, Senator. The key issue—

Senator ABETZ —No they have not.

Senator Faulkner —You can see the—

Senator ABETZ —They were the scheduled dates. We were then told some were rescheduled and we do not have the rescheduled dates.

Senator Faulkner —The dates as outlined in the answer have been provided to you, Senator. I think you will find and I think I will find, if I request further, that the records of the meeting are substantive records of content as opposed to starting and finishing times of meetings.

Senator ABETZ —I would find that passing strange if you had the staff of PM&C sitting in on those meetings and a record was not made of the starting time and the finishing time. But let’s wait and see what the answers would be—

Senator Faulkner —As far as I am aware—and I want to be clear about this—neither the Prime Minister’s office nor the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet record the start and finishing time of meetings. I suspect that that is the reason for the answer being provided to you in the way that it has been.

Senator ABETZ —Well, can I take you to PM25 then. I specifically ask: ‘Can you tell us the length of each meeting as well?’ Senator Faulkner: ‘No I cannot.’ Senator Abetz: ‘On notice.’ Senator Faulkner: ‘I do not know if that information is available but I will ask the Prime Minister if he cares’—what breathtaking arrogance!—’to provide any further information.’ Yet again we are referred to answer PM23. If the information was not available, the answer should have said that that information is not available rather than trying to fob me off to answer PM23, which, I think we have already made the case out, is completely non-responsive.

Senator Faulkner —In answer to the issue you have raised, I think what I said to you stands. But let us be very clear about this. It is my understanding that neither the Prime Minister’s office nor the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet records the starting time and concluding time of such meetings. Records include, obviously, content. I think you are going to find this is fairly standard operating procedure, with respect. And that is the difficulty in the nature of the questions that you ask. It is not an unwillingness to provide you with the information; it is just that the information is not recorded and not available. So I cannot accept the suggestion that it is anything other than the information not being recorded and not being available. That is the reason that the answers—

Senator ABETZ —You are making excuses before you even know if you need to make excuses. Let us find out whether there has been a time recorded and then we can have this discussion.

Senator Faulkner —That is not right, Senator. I will say it again. I have been advised that the Prime Minister’s office and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet do not record that information.

Senator ABETZ —When were you advised that?

Senator Faulkner —When have I been advised?

Senator ABETZ —When were you advised that?

Senator Faulkner —Well, I was just advised by Mr Mrdak a few moment’s ago.

Senator ABETZ —Can I ask you then, Minister, if that is the well known and accepted advice and information in PM&C, why was I not told that in relation to the questions that I asked? Why was it so difficult to say, ‘The length of the meeting was not recorded.’ What would have been so difficult if that was so clear and well known to officers.

Mr Mrdak —Perhaps I could clarify that issue. It was only on examination of the records taken by the department of those meetings that I was able to ascertain that they did not record start and finish times on those records.

Senator ABETZ —Do you mean to say that you provided these answers without bothering to check the actual records of the meetings?

Mr Mrdak —No, sorry, what I am saying is that I provided the advice to the minister on this answer after reviewing the records of those meetings.

Senator ABETZ —When did you review the records of those meetings—before or after these written answers?

Mr Mrdak —Before providing these written answers.

Senator ABETZ —If you knew about that before the written answers were provided, why didn’t you actually tell us the truth that there were no times kept in relation to any of these meetings rather than providing this obfuscation?

Senator Faulkner —Senator, with respect, the answer that you have been provided with is the truth. The answers outline what occurred over January and February of this year and the meeting schedules. It would be most unfair to suggest that the answer is not truthful.

Senator ABETZ —I did not say that; I said obfuscating.

Senator Faulkner —You actually, I thought, used the word ‘truth’. Obviously, where it is appropriate in direct answer to a question, of course information should be provided. If the information is not available, it cannot be provided.

Senator ABETZ —All right. What is the definition of ‘their length varied considerably’ in relation to the length of these meetings? Did some only take five minutes? Did some take five hours? How do we know that their length varied considerably if we did not take a note of the time?

Senator Faulkner —Senator, the answer to the question is an attempt to provide you with as much information as is available. In other words, the meetings were not of a standard duration; they were not all precisely, if you like, an hour long. That is the information that has been provided to you.

Senator ABETZ —How long was the shortest meeting? How long was the longest meeting?

Senator Faulkner —I do not know, and, as you are aware, it is a question that I will not be able to provide an answer to.

Senator ABETZ —You might not be; what about the department?

Mr Mrdak —Certainly I think that what we provided there is, as I say, what we have on the record. I am happy to look at whether we can add anything further to that answer for you, but I do not think we can.

Senator ABETZ —Can I move on to the charter letters. In PM13, I asked:

Either these letters exist or they do not …

You, Senator Faulkner, said, ‘If I can provide you with any further information, I will.’ And I am referred to answer PM8, which of course makes no mention of whether those letters actually existed or did not exist. Can I have an answer to the question as to whether charter letters actually came into being or not?

Senator Faulkner —I addressed this in my opening statement to the committee, but the answer that you have been provided with in PM8 says:

At the conclusion of these meetings, draft charter letters summarising each portfolio’s priorities were prepared. Given the Prime Minister’s decision that the distribution of charter letters was not necessary the draft letters were not finalised.

I think that indicates to you the status. So I suppose, in answer to the question you have just asked me, the answer is: yes, there were draft charter letters. They were not finalised and they were not sent.

Senator ABETZ —All right. On what date did the Prime Minister change his view in relation to charter letters?

Senator Faulkner —I am not sure that the Prime Minister did change his view in relation to charter letters.

Senator ABETZ —Please, Senator Faulkner. We had evidence from Senator Carr and many other ministers indicating at the first round of estimates that the charter letters were just about to be made available and ready, discussions had been held and it was just a matter of time before they would be signed and then in fact made public for openness and transparency. Now you are saying that the Prime Minister never changed his mind in relation to that? If he never changed his mind, what on earth was in his mind to think of drafting draft letters? We have already agreed that the Prime Minister had draft charter letters prepared. Now you are saying he had those draft charter letters prepared in an environment where he never anticipated sending them out. That is passing strange.

Senator Faulkner —As I am sure you are aware because of your own experience as a minister in government, the charter letters are drafted departmentally.

Senator ABETZ —Of their own volition?

Senator Faulkner —My understanding is—but I will check with Mr Mrdak—that that would be considered fairly routine for a department. But let me not provide that evidence to you; let us check with Mr Mrdak about the actual PM&C processes so we are clear about the drafting. I am advised that they were prepared by the department.

Senator ABETZ —But they were prepared by the department at the conclusion of each of the meetings, summarising each portfolio’s priorities, and each portfolio’s priorities were determined, one would assume, by the discussion between the Prime Minister and his minister.

Senator Faulkner —Yes, it is correct that the charter letters were drafted at that stage.

Senator ABETZ —Without the Prime Minister’s imprimatur or a request from the Prime Minister’s office that that be done? It was just an experiment, was it?

Senator Faulkner —No, I do not know that it was an experiment.

Senator ABETZ —No, because ministers were expecting them, like Senator Carr.

Senator Faulkner —I have described it—and I think it is a fair description—as routine departmental business. I think these are not unique circumstances in relation to this particular government.

Senator ABETZ —We are clearly not getting anywhere with openness and transparency, are we? Let us try another one: PM29.

Senator Faulkner —Senator, that is not accurate. Your questions are being answered and answered properly and thoroughly.

Senator ABETZ —They are not. I asked: ‘Has the Prime Minister held a press conference after every cabinet meeting?’ The answer was:

A media event has been conducted after each Cabinet meeting.

What is the difference between a ‘press conference’ and a ‘media event’? I ask you to take a question on notice in relation to PM52, a question asked by my colleague Senator Ronaldson, where he was provided with an answer of a whole list of cabinet meetings. It said ‘cabinet has met on the following days’, and I think we were given about 1½ dozen dates in relation to cabinet meetings. Can you tell me, in relation to each one of those cabinet meetings, when a prime ministerial press conference was held—keeping in mind, of course, that this was an election promise. I understand that you will not have that information to hand straightaway, but, when I asked, ‘Has the Prime Minister held a press conference after every cabinet meeting?’ we were then told a ‘media event’, which undoubtedly could be as much as a media release. Let us have the definition of what is meant by a ‘media event’ in relation to PM29 and what is understood by the Prime Minister’s office by a ‘press conference’, and then let us know, in relation to all the dates outlined in PM52, whether a press conference was actually held.

Senator Faulkner —Senator, you are right to say that I do not have that information to hand. That is one that I will need to take on notice.

Senator ABETZ —All-right. I do note on PM138 that we were given an answer:

The Government has reiterated its commitment to promoting a pro-disclosure culture across government.

In PM146 my colleague Senator Ronaldson asked:

When is the FOI Commissioner going to be appointed?

It was a fairly direct, specific question. The answer was:

The appointment of a Freedom of Information Commissioner will be a matter for Government consideration.

Minister, do you actually believe that that answer is indicative of the government’s ‘pro-disclosure culture’ and its commitment to promoting this pro-disclosure culture?

Senator Faulkner —The government will be honouring its commitment in relation to that particular matter. It is a matter that is being seriously progressed within government. It is true to say that the appointment of an FOI commissioner will be a matter for government consideration. I personally consider it a high priority and a matter that is being progressed.

Senator ABETZ —So when a senator asks when we might get an appointment, we are not told about any difficulties associated with it or why there might be these delays; we are just fobbed off in a very arrogant style that the appointment ‘will be a matter for Government consideration’—no time limit, no timetable, no explanation for the delays. That is part and parcel of this government’s commitment to promoting a pro-disclosure culture.

Senator Faulkner —It is not right to say, first of all, that there are delays. I have outlined the approach that the government has taken in relation to its wide-ranging reforms of the Freedom of Information Act, including the fact that as a first stage the government will be introducing a bill to abolish conclusive certificates. I think that is well known and well understood. I am actively pursuing a second stage of reforms, which includes the establishment of an FOI commissioner. With all the best will in the world, I do not think that any minister or any government could give you a precise date on when such an extensive reform agenda would be concluded. But I think it is fair to say that it is a high priority for the government.

Senator ABETZ —This is just all spin.

Senator Faulkner —It is not spin; it is true.

Senator RONALDSON —It is just spin.

Senator ABETZ —What about an answer like, ‘Within the first term of government’, for example, or ‘If re-elected, within the first two terms’ or a ‘Proposition we hope to pursue over the first 10 years of the Rudd government’?

Senator Faulkner —I cannot be precise about dates.

Senator ABETZ —Just to say that is under consideration is nothing short of arrogant and it is non-disclosure par excellence.

Senator RONALDSON —It is just spin.

Senator Faulkner —It is not at all arrogant, nor is it spin. Let me be clear in my answer to your question: it remains a high priority for the first term of a Rudd government. Now, I cannot be—

Senator ABETZ —See, it is not that difficult to give an answer, is it?

Senator Faulkner —I have said this publicly on any number of occasions.

Senator ABETZ —Why couldn’t you do it in the written answers, then, if it is that easy? It is like drawing teeth.

Senator Faulkner —It is not like drawing teeth, Senator. The written answer, I think, to the question is perfectly reasonable in the circumstances. You know that no minister can be pinned down to a precise date on these matters. It is a high priority, and it is a high priority—

Senator ABETZ —Within the first term?

Senator Faulkner —for our first term, yes.

Senator RONALDSON —It is just the 24-hour media spin. Toss it in and you worry about the details afterwards.

CHAIR —Are there any further questions of a general nature?

Senator RONALDSON —Yes. Minister or Mr Mrdak, can I read a quote from the Australian on 26 August titled ‘Diplomat with family ties gets $225,000 job’. This is an article by Dennis Shanahan, who writes:

A CAREER diplomat with close links to Kevin Rudd and his two prime ministerial predecessors has been given the job of steering Australia’s first female governor-general through the vice-regal world.

Stephen Brady, a former ambassador to The Netherlands and Sweden and the current head of Foreign Affairs’ protocol division, will replace long-serving vice-regal official secretary Malcolm Hazell.

Mr Brady is a long-time friend of Mr Rudd from the Prime Minister’s days as a diplomat and his partner, Peter Stephens—

and this is the point of the quote—

is personal adviser to Mr Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein.

Natasha Bita in the Weekend Australian of 30 August again referred to Peter Stephens as the personal adviser to Kevin Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein. The federal parliamentary Labor Party contact directories, which I have a copy of, refer to Mr Stephens as being on Mr Rudd’s personal staff. Is that correct?

Senator Faulkner —Who is that?

Senator RONALDSON —Peter Stephens. Do you want me to read the quote again?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, he is a member of Mr Rudd’s staff.

Senator RONALDSON —And under the MOP(S) Act?

Senator Faulkner —Yes. Mr Stephens is an adviser to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s office.

Senator RONALDSON —He is an adviser to Ms Rein, isn’t he?

Senator Faulkner —He is an adviser to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s office. He is employed under the MOP(S) Act.

Senator RONALDSON —So Mr Shanahan is wrong, is he?

Senator Faulkner —I do not know what Mr Shanahan actually said. I am sorry, but I am saying—

Senator RONALDSON —What is the point of my asking questions if you are not even listening? I said that it was reported, and I gave you the preamble. According to Mr Shanahan and later to Natasha Bita in the Weekend Australian, he is the personal adviser to Mr Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein. Can I confirm that Mr Stephens previously worked in a government department? Was it PM&C, Mr Mrdak?

Mr Mrdak —I would have to check. I am not aware of that. I will take that on notice and come back to you, Senator, if I can.

Senator RONALDSON —Is it yes?

Senator Faulkner —We do not have that information, but we will see if we can find out for you.

Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak has got the information.

Mr Mrdak —I have just had some clarification. I am advised that he was previously employed in the Department of the Senate.

Senator RONALDSON —Was that a SES level—senior executive service level?

Senator Faulkner —I am not sure that we would necessarily know that. Someone may know but, obviously, it is difficult for PM&C to be providing answers in relation to the Department of the Senate. We do not know.

Mr Mrdak —I will take that on notice, if I can, and find out.

Senator RONALDSON —The person who just gave the information does not have that information?

Mr Mrdak —No.

Senator RONALDSON —I presume, therefore, that you are not aware of his pay grade in the Senate?

Mr Mrdak —No.

Senator RONALDSON —And you are not aware of his role in the Senate?

Mr Mrdak —No.

Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, does Mr Stephens accompany Ms Rein on interstate or international travel?

Mr Mrdak —As the minister has outlined, Mr Stephens is an adviser to the Prime Minister and does on occasion accompany the Prime Minister when he travels. Yes, I am aware of that.

Senator RONALDSON —Does he accompany Ms Rein when she is travelling independently?

Mr Mrdak —Not that I am aware of. But I am happy to seek further information in that regard.

Senator RONALDSON —Do you think that is something you need to take on notice? You do not have personal knowledge of whether someone is travelling with the Prime Minister’s wife?

Mr Mrdak —I have no knowledge of that. I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator RONALDSON —Can you get back to me after lunch in relation to that matter, please.

Mr Mrdak —I will endeavour to.

Senator RONALDSON —Presumably, Mr Stephens receives TA—travel entitlement—when he is travelling with Ms Rein or the Prime Minister or both?

Mr Mrdak —Mr Stephens as an adviser in the Prime Minister’s office is eligible for all of the allowances that are payable to MOP staff.

Senator RONALDSON —Can you provide a full and complete breakdown of the travel related expenses of Mr Stephens?

Mr Mrdak —We do not hold such information. That is a matter for the Department of Finance and Deregulation.

Senator Faulkner —It is held by ministerial and parliamentary services, as I am sure you are aware, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —I will get it from them tomorrow. If they are listening, they can take that on notice for me. When Mr Stevens is not accompanying Ms Rein as her personal adviser, is he normally located in the Prime Minister’s office?

Senator Faulkner —The Prime Minister has a range of roles in the Prime Minister’s office, yes, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —So that is where he is normally if he is not travelling with Ms Rein or with the Prime Minister? Minister, who does Mr Stevens actually answer to?

Senator Faulkner —The Prime Minister, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —Does he answer to the Chief of Staff or does he answer to Ms Rein and has she got the authority to hire or fire him?

Senator Faulkner —As I am sure you are aware, under the MOPS Act obviously for any adviser in the Prime Minister’s office the Prime Minister is the direct employer. But as you also would be aware, a lot of offices, including ministerial offices and prime ministerial offices, are hierarchical in their nature and of course the Prime Minister has a chief of staff, as do ministers and leaders of the opposition and the like. Inevitably there is that sort of relationship between more senior staff in any office. But the direct employer is the Prime Minister.

Senator RONALDSON —Okay. That is good and I think you have probably answered that question. Minister, just so that we are absolutely sure of this, you are telling this Senate estimates committee that Mr Stevens is only ever located within the Prime Minister’s office when he is not travelling with Ms Rein or Mr Rudd. He is not located anywhere else at any time except in the Prime Minister’s office or when he is travelling. Is that right?

Senator Faulkner —What I can help you with is roles, and I am very happy to help you with the information that I have—

Senator RONALDSON —I have the role here. It is in this leaked Labor Party contact directory. It says administrative officer. I want to know whether he is permanently located in the Prime Minister’s office when he is not travelling with Ms Rein or whether he is located elsewhere and on which occasions.

Senator Faulkner —As far as we are aware, he is located in the Prime Minister’s office.

Senator RONALDSON —I will be very interested to hear the secretary’s response to that, because it has been taken on notice. You have got a senior journalist in Mr Shanahan who quite clearly states that Mr Peter Stevens is a personal adviser to Mr Rudd’s wife, Ms Therese Rein. It quite clearly states that. Again in the Weekend Australian on the weekend of 30 August: Mr Peter Stevens is personal adviser to Kevin Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein. Minister, what I am putting to you is that not only is Mr Stevens employed so-called in the Prime Minister’s office and working as an administrative assistant in the Prime Minister’s office but he is actually working for Ms Rein, as Mr Shanahan said, as her personal adviser. The question I therefore ask you is: is it not bad enough that at the last Senate estimates we had evidence that the Prime Minister has got his own butler, who I think was affectionately called Jeeves, and now we are hearing today that Mr Peter Stevens is effectively being paid by the taxpayers of this country to be Ms Rein’s personal adviser?

Senator Faulkner —Senator, I suppose you may care to try and beat up this issue but let me be very, very clear on what the response is to your question. Mr Stephens is an adviser to the Prime Minister in the Prime Minister’s office. If he is not travelling he works in the Prime Minister’s office. He has a range of roles, Senator, in the Prime Minister’s—

Senator RONALDSON —You know him personally, do you?

Senator Faulkner —I have met him. I could not say that I—

Senator RONALDSON —How do you know what his roles are then?

Senator Faulkner —Because, Senator, when I saw—

Senator RONALDSON —Have you seen him travelling with Ms Rein? Is this where you have knowledge of his roles?

Senator Faulkner —I saw an article—not in the newspaper you referred to but in another one—so I asked. I thought to myself that this is a likely story that Senator Ronaldson will probably try to beat up at Senate estimates so I thought that I would try and find out.

Senator RONALDSON —Did you ring Mr Shanahan when you suddenly stumbled across this and say, ‘Dennis, you have mucked this up, mate. He is not a personal adviser at all’? Did you ring Natasha Bita and say, ‘Sorry, Natasha, you have made a dreadful mistake with this. He is not a personal adviser’?

Senator Faulkner —No, Senator, I did not ring any journalist, which will not come as a surprise to you, none of the named journalists at all. What I have done is try and satisfy for myself what the situation is and if I can try and deal with it in a sensible way so that you can put the eggbeater back in the car.

Senator RONALDSON —If you think a paid, funded adviser for the Prime Minister on top of his butler is an eggbeater—

CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, let the minister complete his answer.

Senator Faulkner —What you are saying is not true, Senator. Mr Stephens is an adviser in the Prime Minister’s office and he has a range of roles. I will make this very clear, Chair. What I am going to say I do not accept as a precedent because normally we do not go into the level of detail in relation to MOPS staff as I am about to. But because of the article that I read in the newspaper, I checked this out and thought that Senator Ronaldson might possibly ask me about it. Mr Stephens’s role as adviser to the Prime Minister in the Prime Minister’s office is this: Mr Stephens coordinates the Prime Minister’s involvement in head of state, head of government and other ceremonial activity; he coordinates the Prime Minister’s involvement in the National Australia Day Committee, Australia Day activities and things like that; he coordinates arrangements for official functions at the Lodge, Kirribilli House and Parliament House and he coordinates the management of patronage requests to the Prime Minister’s office. This involves—

Senator RONALDSON —Why didn’t you answer this earlier on?

Senator Faulkner —Because, Senator, I could not get a word in edgeways because you were too busy yelling and screaming about the latest conspiracy theory. Let me be very clear to the committee, Chair, that those requests involve both the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s wife, Ms Rein. Mr Stephens also—I want to be very clear about this so that Senator Ronaldson is aware—coordinates arrangements for Ms Rein’s official engagements and that would go to programming and planning and liaison with relevant agencies and the like. And he also has a substantive task in relation to an administrative role in the Prime Minister’s office, which I am going to describe as ‘paper flow’.

There is a very detailed explanation of this because this matter appeared in the media. It would not normally be provided. It is my view that we do not want any misunderstanding in relation to this. I certainly do not want any unfair and inaccurate accusations made about Mr Stephens, who is an adviser to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s office, and that is why I have provided such a detailed response on this issue.

Senator RONALDSON —Can I make another suggestion, perhaps, as to Mr Stephen’s job description and role. It may well be that his proper job description is ‘Chief Operating Officer for Rudd and Rein Inc’, from the evidence that you are giving us.

Senator Faulkner —That is an offensive effort to try and now make a mountain out of what turns out to be, as you have heard in the proper evidence, a miniscule molehill. You would be better off in this saying that you got it wrong. Perhaps you should acknowledge that and then let us just move quickly on to the next issue.

Senator RONALDSON —You may well want to get off of this, Minister, but if I have it wrong then Dennis Shanahan has got it wrong. Are you reflecting on Mr Shanahan—

Senator Faulkner —Even Dennis would know that from time to time he makes the odd mistake.

Senator RONALDSON —Do you think that he would make a mistake—

Senator Faulkner —I have not seen—

Senator RONALDSON —about something like that?

Senator Faulkner —I do not what is—

Senator RONALDSON —You have not seen the article? You said before that you had seen it.

Senator Faulkner —I said that I saw an article in the Daily Telegraph, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —Oh, it was in there as well?

Senator Faulkner —It was, yes.

Senator FORSHAW —Point of order, Madam Chair. I think that the Senator should have at least some regard for the Hansard reporters who are trying to record this. Constantly interjecting when the minister is giving an answer is unruly and disorderly. I am having trouble hearing Senator Faulkner’s answers because he gets about two or three words out and then he is suddenly interrupted again by Senator Ronaldson.

CHAIR —Yes. Minister, you have the call.

Senator Faulkner —To answer your questions, Senator, about the articles, Steve Lewis—

Senator RONALDSON —Steve Lewis as well!

Senator FORSHAW —Here he goes again.

Senator Faulkner —Wait a minute. I am just telling you what I have seen. Steve Lewis had syndicated articles throughout the Murdoch press and I have certainly seen them, and it certainly raises, I suspect, a not unrelated issue in relation to Mr Stephens. So I have seen that.

Senator RONALDSON —So we have Mr Lewis, who has said the same thing—that Mr Stephens is the personal adviser. We have Mr Shanahan, who says that he is the personal adviser to Ms Rein. We have Natasha Bita, who says that he is the personal adviser to Ms Rein. So all of these senior journalists have got it wrong, have they? Is that what you are telling the committee?

Senator Faulkner —No, Senator, that is what you are telling the committee. What I am telling the committee is that I have outlined it in very extensive detail. I have been on this committee a very long time and I have not ever heard a minister at the table outline in such extensive detail what the role of a ministerial adviser is. I have outlined it to the committee in detail so there can be no misunderstanding, deliberate or otherwise, of Mr Stephen’s role as an adviser to the Prime Minister and the PMO. I have done that understanding that there has been media commentary on this issue and with an expectation that it might just be raised by you or one of your colleagues. I wanted to make sure that all of the facts, on this occasion, are on the table and understood.

Senator RONALDSON —Yes or no: are Mr Shanahan, Mr Lewis, and Natasha Bita wrong or right?

Senator Faulkner —I am not commenting on the articles. I know the issues—

Senator RONALDSON —Do you want to go through it again.

Senator Faulkner —No. I know what is—

Senator RONALDSON —Peter Stephens is personal adviser to Mr Rudd’s wife, Therese Rein—

Senator Faulkner —That is wrong.

Senator RONALDSON —Is Dennis Shanahan right or wrong?

Senator Faulkner —He is wrong.

Senator RONALDSON —Steve Lewis, when he has said the same thing, according to you—and thank you for alerting me to another media report about this matter confirming it—I take it is wrong as well, is he?

Senator Faulkner —It is wrong to describe Mr Stephens as anything other than an adviser to the Prime Minister in the Prime Minister’s office. That is a fact. I have gone through with you, in extensive detail, what Mr Stephens’s role is. I have also been very clear and transparent that, in two areas of his responsibility, he does, amongst his responsibilities, coordinate arrangements for Ms Rein’s official engagements and manage what I have described as patronage requests—there may be a better way of explaining it than that terminology, but you know what I mean—that come for both the Prime Minister and Ms Rein in the office. Then he has a range of other responsibilities as well. It is a very frank and very transparent explanation. It also, I might say, is an absolutely appropriate and proper function for an adviser in the Prime Minister’s office to undertake. The reason this has been done is that you say you cannot make a mountain out of a molehill on this. There is no story, however much you care to shout about it. The facts now are on the table for anyone who is interested to be able to consider.

Senator RONALDSON —The facts on the table are that three senior journalists in this gallery are wrong. According to you, they are wrong. They are the facts that are on the table.

Senator Faulkner —Look, Senator, what I am talking about—

Senator RONALDSON —Why are you so afraid of actually saying, ‘Yes, they are wrong’?

Senator Faulkner —I have already said that I believe that the journalists are wrong in what they have said in relation to the description of Mr Stephens’s role—so I will say it again. But it is not enough, I think, to say that.

Senator RONALDSON —Do you believe they are wrong or do you know they are wrong?

Senator Faulkner —What I think is useful for people, whether they be journalists or senators or members of the public, is not just some bland statement about whether somebody is right or wrong but to explain the situation to the committee in detail so everyone can have an understanding of what the situation is. I have done that. I have outlined the roles that Mr Stephens has undertaken in the Prime Minister’s office in this circumstance.

Senator RONALDSON —So do you believe they are wrong or do you know they are wrong?

Senator Faulkner —What?

Senator RONALDSON —You said you ‘believed’ they are wrong. Do you know they are wrong or do you just believe, from your knowledge, that they are wrong?

Senator FAULKNER —I heard you quote what Mr Shanahan has said, and I have said what I know the situation to be. I am not casting aspersions on journalists or senators or anyone else. What I am trying to make clear—absolutely crystal clear—is what this gentleman does as a staff member, as an adviser to the Prime Minister, in the Prime Minister’s office. It is not a matter of going round saying who is wrong and who is right. It is a matter of having as much information as possible out there so any other journalist or person who cares to comment on it can do so fully apprised of the facts and what the situation is. But I am not going to spend my time arguing that journalists are right or wrong. Most politicians from time to time have views that not always does the fourth estate report matters in a way that suits them—

Senator RONALDSON —Methinks you protesteth too much, quite frankly. Madam Chair, I will move on to another—

Senator Faulkner —Good.

Senator RONALDSON —I could always come back to it, I suppose.

Senator Faulkner —Fine. Feel free.

Senator RONALDSON —We might find some more newspaper articles on the way—

Senator Faulkner —And you will get the same sort of complete answer that you have got this time.

CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, if you have any questions other than statements.

Senator RONALDSON —I am finding it very, very hard to ask my question.

Senator FORSHAW —If you stopped talking to yourself, you might actually get a question out.

CHAIR —I have to say I am finding it very hard to actually follow who is asking what. Senator Ronaldson you have the call.

Senator RONALDSON —We have got the merry magpie down the other end of the table there. I want to now turn to the ministerial staff code. Minister, has any Labor government staff member contravened or been investigated for contravening the code?

Senator Faulkner —Yes.

Senator RONALDSON —What was the nature of that contravention or investigated contravention?

Senator Faulkner —There are two areas that I can inform you about. The first you are absolutely well aware of, and I will describe as matters surrounding the CMAX issue. I know you are aware that the Auditor-General is investigating those matters. Than there is a second issue in relation to another ministerial staffer. You would also be aware of this matter because your colleague Senator Cash asked me a question about it in Senate question time a couple of days ago.

Senator RONALDSON —Indeed.

Senator Faulkner —In broad measure, they are the two areas.

Senator RONALDSON —In relation to the CMAX affair, I presume there are two staff members who have been involved in that investigation—one from the Minister for Defence’s office and one from the Prime Minister’s office. Is that right?

Senator Faulkner —That matter, as you know, is currently being investigated by the Auditor-General, who is exercising his powers under his act. I do not know the number of ministerial staff that he is investigating. I want to be very careful about this. You would not want me to trample into his inquiry. I am being very careful about it, but it is true that at least in the public arena issues have been raised in relation to a staffer in the Minister for Defence’s office and a staffer in the Prime Minister’s office.

Senator RONALDSON —Leaving aside the matters that the Auditor-General is looking at, do I take it that the three people who have been brought before the staffing committee—

Senator Faulkner —I am sorry?

Senator RONALDSON —I presume that Ms Annie O’Rourke and Mr Christian Taubenschlag have been before the committee?

Senator Faulkner —That matter is being investigated by the Auditor-General, but I would point out to you that your questions predicate matters relating to the code of conduct for ministerial staff. I think it is proper that I say to you that those CMAX matters that predate the code of conduct for ministerial staff, which was effective on 1 July. I am not suggesting for one moment that the principles contained in the code are not relevant, but, just in the interests of being precise, you would recall that you said you wanted to ask questions about the ministerial code, and I think it is proper that I am very accurate about that with you—

Senator RONALDSON —I will get to Ms McKew’s office shortly, where there is a direct relationship. Can I take you back to the CMAX matters. Since the election of the Rudd government, is it only those two staff members that I have referred to who have been investigated by the Government Staffing Committee?

Senator Faulkner —You mean is it only those two broad matters?

Senator RONALDSON —No, those two individuals—or have there been others over and above Ms O’Rourke and Mr Taubenschlag who have been before the Government Staffing Committee?

Senator FAULKNER —I have indicated to you that the issue in relation to Ms Forrester and Ms McKew’s office is also a matter that the committee has dealt with. I am sorry, I thought I had said that to you earlier.

Senator RONALDSON —Can you tell the committee, in relation to before the suspension of the government staffing committee in relation to Ms O’Rourke and Mr Taubenschlag, how many times the committee had met and whether they had been interviewed by the government staffing committee prior to the suspension as a result of the Auditor-General’s investigation?

Senator Faulkner —I cannot say to you how many times the committee has met. Do you mean on that issue?

Senator RONALDSON —Yes.

Senator Faulkner —Because it meets on a whole range of issues.

Senator RONALDSON —Has there been any investigation at all or any interviews with Ms O’Rourke or Mr Taubenschlag by the government staffing committee, and were there any prior to the Auditor-General’s investigation?

Senator Faulkner —As far as I am aware, no; the committee did not handle the matter in that way.

Senator RONALDSON —What do you mean ‘in that way’?

Senator Faulkner —The government staffing committee asked the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to nominate a suitable person to examine staff conduct relating to the CMAX contract matter and provide a report to the committee.

Senator RONALDSON —Did that person that you are referring to interview Ms O’Rourke or Mr Taubenschlag?

Senator Faulkner —I believe so, yes.

Senator RONALDSON —I will double check with Mr Mrdak.

Senator Faulkner —Before you do, if I can just respectfully suggest to you: I am sure that these matters are germane to what the Auditor-General is investigating. I am obviously going to be, in these circumstances—

Senator RONALDSON —They are very germane.

Senator Faulkner —I would hope that you would also acknowledge that as the minister at the table I should be very careful in the way that I respond to them. I do not know if you are aware—I assume you are—that the government staffing committee in fact did not handle this directly.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, can I just put on the table, to put my questioning in some context, a letter from the Auditor-General to me dated 20 August. I assume that he has written to you in similar terms:

The Audit will have regard to the outcomes of the review being undertaken by the Government Staffing Committee in respect of the engagement process.

Senator Faulkner —Yes, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —On what basis was the government staffing committee inquiry suspended when the Auditor said that the audit ‘will have regard to the outcomes of the review being undertaken by the government staffing committee in respect of the engagement process’?

Senator Faulkner —I do not know that I can provide any more information on this than I already have in the Senate. I was asked a number of questions in the Senate about this, as you know. My view and the committee’s view is that it was absolutely proper to suspend the inquiry of the government staffing committee so there could be no allegation or suggestion of involvement or interference—

Senator RONALDSON —But, Minister, the Auditor-General wanted your involvement. He said that they would be basing the outcomes of their investigation on the government staffing committee reviews. I am absolutely at a loss as to why, when the Auditor-General has said that part of what their outcomes of their investigation will be will be in the back of the government’s staffing committee. You then suspend the inquiry of the government staffing committee—and I am going to take you back to some dates and things shortly because I suspect not much had been done. Minister, this almost smacks of a bit of convenience—to suspend this—because nothing I suspect had been done.

Senator Faulkner —That is not right, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —Well, I need you at the end to explain to me why, if the Auditor-General has said—and I will not read the letter out again—that their inquiry will take into account the outcomes of a government staffing committee, how could you possibly suspend the activities of the government staffing committee without the deliberate intention of denying access to the Auditor-General of matters that he was going to use in determining his position in relation to this matter. I am just completely at a loss as to why you would do it.

Senator Faulkner —Nothing has been denied. No access has been denied to the Auditor-General on any information at all.

Senator RONALDSON —I did not ask you that question. I would assume that is right.

Senator Faulkner —You said that in the contribution you have just made. I can assure you that in accordance with the commitment I gave in the parliament—and I did not give it lightly—I have and the committee has fully cooperated with the Auditor-General. I took the view, and I believe it is right, that, if the committee in the circumstances that it found itself in had finalised that matter in advance of the Auditor-General reporting, the government would have been very roundly criticised, given the Auditor-General had determined to conduct an audit on that report.

Senator RONALDSON —But the Auditor-General was asking you for an outcome. The Auditor-General himself said that he wanted an outcome from the government staffing committee. So on what basis do you unilaterally make that decision?

Senator Faulkner —Because the government staffing committee has taken the view that any outcome it reaches should be informed by the Auditor-General’s report.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, you received this letter from the Auditor-General. You were invited to have an outcome to assist the Auditor-General in this audit. Did you suspend this on receipt of the Auditor-General’s letter?

Senator Faulkner —Could you repeat that.

Senator RONALDSON —Did you suspend the activities of the government staffing committee inquiry on receipt of the Auditor-General’s letter?

Senator Faulkner —Yes. I will just double-check that. I will just check the timing for you.

Senator FIFIELD —Contrary to the wishes of the Auditor-General. This does not look good.

Senator RONALDSON —No.

Senator Faulkner —Senator, it looks very appropriate in the circumstances. It is absolutely the right thing to do. But let me just check the timing for you. Having checked, the answer I gave you was right.

Proceedings suspended from 12.29 pm to 1.32 pm

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, with the benefit of some time over lunch, I will again ask you the question. You indicated that you did not suspend the Government Staffing Committee investigation until after you had received the letter from the Auditor-General. I will again read you the quote:

The auditor will have regard to the outcomes of the review being undertaken by the government staffing committee in respect of the engagement process.

I again ask you: why would you suspend that committee upon receipt of a letter from the Auditor-General indicating that he would have regard to the outcomes of that review?

Senator Faulkner —I can assure you that the time I have had over lunch has not changed any view. I am not sure that I can add a lot to what I have said in this forum and in others. But the fact of the matter is that the Government Staffing Committee took a strong view that it would not be appropriate for the committee to continue its deliberations and finalise that matter because of the pending performance audit from the Auditor-General. Of course, as we know, the Auditor-General has statutory functions and obligations to fulfil. The Government Staffing Committee took the view that it should await any findings from that audit process so the committee could consider them. I have also made the point—but let me just stress it again for your benefit and the benefit of the committee—that obviously we have fully cooperated with the Auditor-General, as I indicated publicly we would.

Senator RONALDSON —But, Minister, you have not provided that level of support to the Auditor-General, because one of the fundamental matters in his investigation was the completion, the outcome, of the review being undertaken by the government staffing committee. It beggars belief—and I do not think anyone around this table would accept—that there is any justification whatsoever for suspending an inquiry on receipt of a letter from the Auditor-General where the Auditor-General made it quite clear that he would be relying on the outcome of that staffing committee review. I do not think it is unreasonable for a view to be formed that there is unreasonable interference in the independence of the Auditor-General by adopting that attitude. You had not even thought about suspending it before the receipt of the Auditor-General’s letter. It was done at the same time. This is tantamount to interference in the independence of the Auditor-General.

Senator Faulkner —With respect, Senator, that is absolute nonsense. The committee has been absolutely respectful of the Auditor-General and the Auditor-General’s processes here. The government staffing committee and, for that matter, I have extended total cooperation, complete cooperation, to the ANAO in relation to the performance of their audit functions. To say anything else is absolutely inaccurate.

Senator RONALDSON —But why wouldn’t it be open to the general community to believe that this is actually political interference in the independent work of the Auditor-General, because you have not provided this committee with any good reason for the suspension of the government staffing committee when you have been advised by the Auditor-General that he is expecting the outcomes of its inquiry to assist him in his inquiry?

Senator Faulkner —The position is as I have outlined it. The government staffing committee are and I personally am cooperating fully with the Auditor-General. The government believes that this is the appropriate and absolutely proper way of dealing with this particular matter. We do not want to leave ourselves open to any criticism, obviously, of a suggestion of interference in the ongoing processes the Auditor-General is conducting. The Auditor-General has received total and full cooperation from the government staffing committee and will continue to do so. The government staffing committee does not want to pre-empt the audit. The Auditor-General will report, and of course the government staffing committee then can conclude its consideration, because it has only suspended its work; it has not abandoned it in any way, shape or form.

Senator RONALDSON —Are you still meeting?

Senator Faulkner —What do you mean?

Senator RONALDSON —You say it has suspended and it has not completed its work; when do you envisage that the government—

Senator Faulkner —Well, it has not been abandoned. If the suggestion is being made by you that the matter is being swept under the carpet, that is not right. It will come back and conclude these matters but do so fully informed and benefited by the report of the Auditor-General.

Senator RONALDSON —So the government staffing committee will be reviewing the Auditor-General’s inquiry in relation to this matter and the government staffing committee will be making the decisions, will it?

Senator Faulkner —No.

Senator RONALDSON —Why else would you be meeting after the release of the Auditor-General’s report?

Senator Faulkner —Because the Auditor-General is conducting a thorough audit of this matter and the government staffing committee believes that that will be beneficial in terms of any final outcome. Of course it will take very close account of the report. I have said this before on any number of occasions. It might sound to some like a statement of the obvious but I do not treat it as such. I am being absolutely straightforward in regard to this. The suspended matter—I have said this before a number of times—has not been abandoned; it is suspended. And when it resumes it will do so fully informed by an audit report from the Auditor-General. I would have thought that that was beneficial. I think most reasonable people will see the good sense of that.

Senator RONALDSON —I disagree.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Can I follow up on a question, Minister, that was answered—well, to which some sort of answer was given—which I asked on notice. The answer was that, as at 11 July, which was the date set for responses to this committee—because I asked a question on providing details of the process, nature and outcome of the investigation of the government staffing committee referred to by you on 27 May—the government staffing committee had not concluded its consideration of this matter. My question was very specific and it asked for the process, the nature and the outcome. I appreciate that you are now focusing on the outcome. My question also focused on the process and the nature of what had been the deliberations of the government staffing committee. That is the question. The answer says, ‘has not concluded its consideration’. Well, I would like to understand what it actually has considered. That is what I do not understand, and that is really the gist of what Senator Ronaldson was asking. What has this committee done?

Senator Faulkner —I think I answered this question before the luncheon break. I outlined what the committee had done. Senator Ronaldson asked me and I answered. I am happy to answer it again, if you would like.

Senator RONALDSON —Let us go through it. Were Annie O’Rourke or Christian Taubenschlag interviewed by the government staffing committee?

Senator Faulkner —I told you before the break that the government staffing committee asked the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to nominate a suitable person to examine staff conduct relate to the CMAX contract matter and provide a report to the committee.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Has it been done?

Senator Faulkner —That was not done directly by the committee.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Well, do we know if it has been done? I appreciate you are sort of beating around the bush. Has it or has it not been done? It is a pretty simple answer.

Senator Faulkner —It has not been done by the committee. The committee asked—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Is the committee is aware of whether it has been done?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, Senator. I am just about to—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Well, is the committee aware of when it was done?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, Senator.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Is the committee aware of the number of meetings that have occurred, or is the committee aware of any record of such meetings?

Senator Faulkner —As I have indicated that, as to the specific issue that you raised, those matters were not dealt with by the committee directly. The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet made a nomination of a suitable person to conduct those inquiries, and that person conducted those inquiries.

Senator RONALDSON —Who was that, Minister?

Senator Faulkner —That was Mr Peter Hamburger, who I am sure you would know of.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —All right. So has the committee put in place a framework for Mr Hamburger’s handling of this matter?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, it did.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —All right. What are the terms of that framework?

Senator Faulkner —I do not have them before me but I will just check.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —While you are checking, do the terms of that framework contains specific time requirements for Mr Hamburger to conduct whatever investigation he is conducting and a timeframe within which Mr Hamburger must report to the committee?

Senator Faulkner —In broad terms, the person was asked to examine the relevant staffer’s conduct as a ministerial staff member, with particular reference to relationship with CMAX Communications—

Senator RONALDSON —What date was that?

Senator Faulkner —When was he asked?

Senator RONALDSON —Yes.

Senator FAULKNER —Early June, I think 2 June. Because Senator Ronaldson cut across that answer, which I am perfectly happy with, let me complete my answer to Senator Fierravanti-Wells. This included the staff member’s relationship with CMAX Communications, knowledge of the company’s contract for the provision of services in connection with the Australia 2020 Summit.

Senator RONALDSON —Mr Hamburger was tasked, you say, in early June?

Senator Faulkner —No, the committee asked the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet to undertake that process. I have said subsequently that the secretary had nominated Mr Hamburger—

Senator RONALDSON —When was Mr Hamburger tasked?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Yes, and the timeframe, because that was part of my question too.

Senator Faulkner —I would have to take that date on notice unless Mr Mrdak can help me. Let me just check. It was 5 June.

Senator RONALDSON —The fifth. On 2 July you advised that the report was imminent. Do you remember saying that?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —And then on 26 July the Prime Minister told the Australian newspaper that ‘the government staffing committee was still considering the conduct of Mr Taubenschlag in relation to the contract’. Between 5 June and 2 July, had Mr Hamburger interviewed Ms Annie O’Rourke or Mr Taubenschlag?

Mr Mrdak —Yes, he had. Mr Hamburger provided an initial report to the staffing committee on 17 June.

Senator RONALDSON —An initial report.

Mr Mrdak —He subsequently provided some further follow-up advice for the committee at their request on subsequent dates. But his report was provided to the committee on 17 June.

Senator RONALDSON —So you tasked this to a senior public servant, who reported back to you on 17 June, Minister. Did you then ask for further information as a result of that initial report?

Senator Faulkner —No.

Senator RONALDSON —Okay, so it was tasked to a senior public servant. He reported back on 17 June. On 2 July you said the report was imminent. The Prime Minister said on 26 July that you were still considering the conduct. Had there been any further investigation from the government staffing committee by way of inquiries, access to email or any other investigation at all between 17 June and 26 August, when the ANAO wrote to you regarding this method measure—20 August, I should say.

Senator Faulkner —Yes, further advice had been sought.

Senator RONALDSON —What further information had been sought by the government staffing committee?

Senator Faulkner —I do not intend to go into the detail of this, but I will give you a picture of it.

Senator RONALDSON —Perhaps you can tell me when that information was provided.

Senator Faulkner —I will give you as much information as I can. Having received a report from Mr Hamburger the committee asked Mr Hamburger for recommendations on sanctions that should be applied.

Senator RONALDSON —And did he provide you with that information?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, he did.

Senator RONALDSON —When was that?

Senator Faulkner —In late July, I think. I will just check with Mr Mrdak. Yes, 24 July.

Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, why would the inquiry take some 15 days but a discussion about sanctions take five weeks?

Mr Mrdak —Mr Hamburger was appointed to undertake this task and undertook this task in early June. He submitted his report, as the minister has outlined, on 17 June. Mr Hamburger then had a period of absence on leave from Canberra and was unavailable to do some further analysis for a period of several weeks. Hence, on his return from long-planned leave, I understand he was asked some further questions by the ministerial staffing committee, as the minister has outlined, in relation to possible actions that could or should be pursued in relation to the staff involved. Mr Hamburger undertook that work on his return from leave and provided reports, as the minister has outlined, on 24 July.

Senator RONALDSON —What were his recommendations in relation to sanctions?

Senator Faulkner —That advice from Mr Hamburger has been provided to the Auditor-General. I can confirm that. But consideration of that advice has also been deferred subject to the Auditor-General’s report on this matter, so I do not think it would be appropriate for me, having outlined the processes involved here, to go into the detail of Mr Hamburger’s recommendations. That particular matter awaits final determination.

Senator RONALDSON —How long was Mr Mrdak away from Canberra, Mr Mrdak?

Mr Mrdak —My recollection is of the order of three weeks.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, you had a sanction report on 24 July. There had still been nothing released on 20 August. I presume that, had the Auditor-General’s letter not arrived, potentially we would still be sitting here. Were you just hoping that this would all go away? Was that the government’s view of this—’We just hope it will all go away’?

Senator Faulkner —At no stage have I wished it would go away. In fact, at every stage I have done everything I can, including the establishment of the issue, as you know, going to the government staffing committee in the first place, to ensure that we dealt with this very seriously and very thoroughly. One of the issues, as I am sure you would understand, that any committee needs to deal with in these circumstances goes to issues of natural justice for the individuals involved. The committee very  properly took account of those considerations.

Senator RONALDSON —So how many times did the government staffing committee meet in relation to this matter to discuss the sanctions after receipt of the report of 24 July, Mr Mrdak?

Mr Mrdak —I am sorry, I do not have those details.

Senator Faulkner —I do not have those details either obviously. But, as I have indicated, I am happy to outline the process for you.

Senator RONALDSON —I want to know what discussions took place in relation to the sanctions and on what dates, following receipt of Mr Hamburger’s sanctions report of 24 July. Did you meet at all?

Senator Faulkner —I do not have that information, but I will see if I can find that detail.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, you must remember whether the government staffing committee met to—

Senator Faulkner —You have asked me for details of it and I do not want to make it up. The government staffing committee did meet. It did discuss these issues, but I do not actually have the dates before me. We will see what we can do on notice to find out the answer to your question.

Senator RONALDSON —Just to be absolutely sure: the government staffing committee met after the receipt of Mr Hamburger’s 24 July sanctions report—is that what you are telling the committee?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, it did meet after that.

Senator RONALDSON —To discuss the sanctions?

Senator Faulkner —As I have indicated to you, but I will say it again, it asked Mr Hamburger to make further recommendations on what, if any, sanctions should be applied. So it did do that. I think I said that.

Senator RONALDSON —That’s good.

Senator Faulkner —I am making it clear.

Senator RONALDSON —We have moved on from that.

Senator Faulkner —That was the answer to your question.

Senator RONALDSON —No it was not; I will ask it again, if you like. After you received the sanctions report on 24 July from Mr Hamburger, did the government staffing committee meet again to discuss the sanctions report provided by Mr Hamburger prior to the receipt of the letter from the Auditor-General on 20 July, at which stage you then suspended the committee’s work?

Senator Faulkner —I believe so, but I do not have a date to provide you. My recollection is that it did. I have indicated also that the committee had mind to issues of natural justice also and determined that, in the conduct of this particular matter, it would take account of those issues, as I am sure you would think it should.

Senator RONALDSON —This is not a natural justice issue; this is a matter that has been drawn out for some three months. I would have thought, and I am sure members on this side of the committee would assume, that you would have recollection about what possible sanctions were going to be imposed on two very senior government staffers.

Senator Faulkner —I do. I indicated that that particular matter has obviously been suspended awaiting the Auditor-General’s report. I have indicated that I do not intend to canvas that matter at this commitment. You asked me if the committee met. I indicated to you that the committee did meet. What I do not have at my fingertips, and I do not intend to make it up, is what the relevant date was.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —The matter is now with the Auditor-General. Does that mean that the Auditor-General has the benefit of the consideration thus far by the new government staffing committee? In other words, have the deliberations of the government staffing committee been given to the Auditor-General?

Senator Faulkner —The Auditor-General has all the relevant documentation. The government staffing committee has been very cooperative in relation to this matter and has assured itself that the relevant document is supplied. In the case of the Auditor-General, he has actually identified documents as well which have also been provided to him.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —The final arbiter of this matter will be the government staffing committee, which will I assume take into account whatever the Auditor-General is now going to say—is that the situation?

Senator Faulkner —Yes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —That is the situation. So how do I get around the fact that the Auditor-General is saying they are going to wait for your deliberation and you are saying that you are going to wait for the Auditor-General’s deliberation—

Senator Faulkner —The Auditor-General’s inquiries are ongoing and that audit is being conducted as we speak.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —And that will form part of the body of evidence that will be before the government staffing committee to enable it to make its final deliberation—is that the situation?

Senator Faulkner —It certainly will. In fact, it is obviously a critically important input to the government staffing committee.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I appreciate it is a critically important input. When are we going to actually see an end to this? Is the committee aware when the Auditor-General is going to complete—

Senator Faulkner —I am certainly not, and I personally do not think it is appropriate that I ask that question. The critical thing from my personal point of view is that the Auditor-General conducts his audit, his inquiry, with full cooperation from the government, absolutely unfettered in any way, shape or form, including in terms of timing.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —My concern is this. There may be sanctions. Clearly some sanctions—without going into the detail of what those sanctions could be—have been considered. In the interim, you have senior government staffers that are continuing in positions. The longer this matter goes, the longer they stay in their positions. If sanctions are ultimately imposed upon them at a later date, they will have effectively been conducting operations in circumstances where serious sanctions would otherwise have been imposed on them. That is the concern that I have. Are we seeing a deliberate delay here? This matter has now been going on for months and months and months. On the last occasion, Mr Mrdak gave us an indication that there would be an investigation of a whole lot of other contracts in this matter. We will be coming to that as well. I still have not seen anything concrete on that. There are clearly problems that arose out of this. When are we going to see an end to it?

Senator Faulkner —You can be absolutely assured that I am very committed to ensuring that there are absolutely thorough processes—impeccable process—in relation to these matters. Let us be clear, this level of thoroughness is, I think, unprecedented in terms of consideration of these sorts of matters.

Senator RONALDSON —Come on, Minister. It is anything but thorough.

Senator Faulkner —So you can be assured that I am, and the government staffing committee is, committed to ensuring that an absolutely thorough process—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Well, Minister—

Senator Faulkner —I actually do not want to see it truncated. I want to make sure that the Auditor-General has all the time and all the support and all the cooperation he needs. I am sure you would agree with that principle.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I agree, but this matter has gone on for months and months and months, and my point is: is it going on for months and months and months because ultimately there will be some sanction put on these senior staffers and this matter is being dragged on as much as possible to give them as long—

Senator Faulkner —That is not right. I remind you that is not right.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Well, that is the perception, Minister.

Senator Faulkner —If it is a perception, I will lay the perception to rest.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —The perception can be laid to rest if you give us an undertaking as to when this matter—the final matter—will be decided. It cannot be that hard.

Senator Faulkner —Indeed. It will be finalised as soon as the Auditor-General’s report is received. Don’t forget that the Auditor-General’s inquiry was something that the opposition itself asked for.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I would have thought, given the seriousness of this matter, there are really issues thank goodness that we did, otherwise we would be going around on some sort of committee that does not seem to be getting its act together. Anyway, I should leave the matter there.

CHAIR —Are there any further general questions?

Senator RONALDSON —Indeed, if we had not asked the questions we would most certainly not have got any response. Moving on to the lobbyists code, Minister or Mr Mrdak, I am wondering what is the establishment and operating costs to date associated with the establishment of this.

Senator Faulkner —I need to ask Mr Mrdak or officials to answer that.

Mr Mrdak —I do not readily have the cost with me but I am happy to get that to you as soon as I can.

Senator RONALDSON —Has any applicant to the register been unsuccessful?

Mr Mrdak —No, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —Are you satisfied that there is no individual organisation providing lobbying services that is not registered?

Mr Mrdak —The obligation is on those lobbyists to ensure they are registered. We are not in a position to give you a hundred per cent guarantee that all lobbyists are so but, given the large number of people who have registered, we think that by and large most people who are undertaking third-party lobbying have now registered.

Senator RONALDSON —What remedial measures do you have in place in the event of someone breaching the code?

Mr Mrdak —Under the code, the secretary can have that person taken off the register if they have breached the obligations of the code and they are registered. Obviously there is an obligation on ministers under the code and senior public servants to not accept meetings with people who are not registered and who do not identify themselves as being a third-party lobbyist.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, what remedial action would you take with fellow ministers if you became aware of the fact that they were dealing with people who were not on the code? What is the proposed practice?

Senator Faulkner —There are the provisions of the code itself, and I suppose it would depend on the nature of the circumstances. But can I say that obviously we have engaged in efforts to ensure that relevant members of the executive are well apprised of the code and its implications. I understand why you ask the question, and in a general sense my response is to try and say to you that we have engaged as much as we can in ensuring that that level of awareness is high, so I am hoping that the sorts of circumstances you refer to do not occur, or at least if they do occur only occur very rarely and inadvertently.

Senator RONALDSON —Can I go back briefly to the code of conduct for ministerial staff. We discussed earlier on some discussions about a staff member for Parliamentary Secretary McKew, Kathleen Forrester. In relation to the contract CEM 118028, which I think was an amount of $112,000, it appears to be a clear breach of point 4 of the code of conduct, which says that staff must divest themselves or relinquish control of interest in any private company or business and/or direct interest in any public company involved in the area of the minister’s portfolio responsibilities. At the time that this ownership were still in place with Ms Forrester she was employed by the minister. Has this issue being considered under the ministerial staff code of conduct?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, it has.

Senator RONALDSON —What is the outcome of that?

Senator Faulkner —I responded to this issue in part in the parliament, as you would be aware. As a general point I would say to the committee that there is obviously a commitment to high standards of staff conduct, as far as the government is concerned. That is why it has introduced a ministerial staff code of conduct. You would be aware of the element of the code of conduct that came into effect, as I think I said earlier in today’s hearing, on 1 July this year, requiring staff to relinquish control of interests in any private company or business and/or direct interest in any public company involved in the area of their minister’s portfolio responsibilities.

Senator RONALDSON —Yes, I am aware of that.

Senator Faulkner —You would be aware of the information that I provide to the Senate in relation to this particular matter. In these circumstances the government staffing committee has met. It has examined the conduct of the staffer concerned, Ms Forrester, with reference to the provision of the ministerial staff code. The committee exhaustively examined documents relevant to Ms Forrester’s holding in the Allen Consulting Group. I might just interpolate there for your benefit, Senator Ronaldson, that at the time that those shares were divested the value of those shares was $2,252.52.

Senator RONALDSON —But you are not suggesting that the quantum overrides the principle, surely?

Senator Faulkner —No, what I am trying to do is provide you with a full picture.

Senator RONALDSON —I am a bit surprised that you raised the quantum, quite frankly. I cannot see how that can possibly be relevant.

Senator Faulkner —I assumed that you would ask me. Perhaps you would not have—I might have been wrong. But it was a fairly logical follow-up question. It is the sort of question I would have asked if I were you, I suppose. I thought I would just cut to the chase.

Senator RONALDSON —You always put quantum ahead of principle, so I am not surprised that that is what you would have done.

Senator Faulkner —I do not know that that is fair. I thought you might ask that. But if it is not relevant, I will not go to it.

Senator RONALDSON —If you want to fire the shots, that is fine—I am quite happy to engage.

Senator Faulkner —The committee did note Ms Forrester’s attempt to divest her interest. It certainly noted her disclosure of this and her distance from the contracting process. The committee did determine in this instance that, in its view, there was no serious breach of the code. It did, however, determine in the case of Ms Forrester that she should be counselled for failing to bring to the parliamentary secretary’s attention her attempt to divest her shareholding in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest. And that has occurred today.

Senator RONALDSON —This became public last Thursday, I think.

Senator Faulkner —Yes.

Senator RONALDSON —When did the committee meet?

Senator Faulkner —On Friday last week.

Senator RONALDSON —Did you meet the once or have you met since then?

Senator Faulkner —The committee had one meeting dedicated to this matter on Friday.

Senator RONALDSON —How long was that meeting for?

Senator Faulkner —I do not know precisely. But the committee had the benefit of having the capacity for an exhaustive examination beforehand, and it was a meeting that took as much time as was necessary to deal properly and thoroughly with the issues at hand.

Senator RONALDSON —What material did you seek prior to the consideration by the committee?

Senator Faulkner —It had a range of relevant documents, including the declaration of private interests, including the documentary demonstration of Ms Forrester’s attempt to divest herself of these matters and how that was dealt with by the company.

Senator RONALDSON —And did you interview Ms McKew or Ms Forrester?

Senator Faulkner —I did not interview either of them. I did speak to Ms McKew about the issue. I would not put it at the level of saying it was an interview.

Senator RONALDSON —What members of the committee met on Friday?

Senator Faulkner —The full committee met.

Senator RONALDSON —And you were not there?

Senator Faulkner —Yes, I was there.

Senator RONALDSON —But Ms Forrester was not called before the committee?

Senator Faulkner —No.

Senator RONALDSON —Was Ms McKew called before the committee?

Senator Faulkner —No.

Senator RONALDSON —Was the secretary for education called?

Senator Faulkner —No, but that would not be appropriate. It certainly would not have happened, no.

Senator RONALDSON —Did you—

Senator Faulkner —It would never have happened and it certainly did not happen on that occasion.

Senator RONALDSON —Did you make any inquiries of the dep sec for education in relation to Ms Forrester’s discussions with him in relation to the Allen Consulting Group?

Senator Faulkner —I personally have not made such inquiries, and I do not think it would be appropriate that I would have.

Senator RONALDSON —Did the committee make those inquiries?

Senator Faulkner —The committee was informed that Ms Forrester herself informed the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations of her previous engagement by the Allen Consulting Group.

Senator RONALDSON —I thank you for that confirmation. It comes on the back of Ms McKew’s statement last Tuesday. Indeed she did tell the deputy secretary that she had been employed, but she failed to tell the deputy secretary that she was still a shareholder in the Allen Consulting Group. I would have thought that, if this committee were doing its job properly, that would be the very question that you would ask and that is the very reason why the dep sec for education would be contacted in relation to that matter.

Senator Faulkner —I am sure you are aware that the decision to procure these sorts of services through a direct source contract and the selection of the company were matters for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, in accordance obviously with procurement guidelines. I do note—and it is probably important for us to take account of—the fact that Ms McKew herself is the Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Childcare in this portfolio.

Senator RONALDSON —Do you know what Ms Forrester’s website email access point is? It is the department, DEEWR. So she is involved in that department. That is where her contact point is. I put it to you again that Ms McKew’s statement very clearly identified that the employment had been indicated to the department, but, if you like, it was the failure to mention the ownership that I think has raised a lot of concern about this matter. Surely, as the person responsible for the government staffing committee, you would want to know whether Ms Forrester had advised the department that she was still a shareholder in a company that was being given direct source tenders.

Senator Faulkner —The facts of the matter are this. Prior to her appointment as a ministerial staffer, Ms Forrester was an employee of the Allen Consulting Group, which—

Senator RONALDSON —We know all that.

Senator Faulkner —I am just going through the facts of the matter. It is important it is placed on the record. Allen Consulting Group is a private company. She resigned from that position before taking up her ministerial staff appointment. It is true that, as an employee of Allen Consulting Group, Ms Forrester, like other employees, received shares in the company under the employee share plan. As you know, in April of this year she commenced at Ms McKew’s office. Ms Forrester told the company at that time that she wanted to divest her shares to avoid any potential conflict of interest. She wrote to the company chair on that day and said that she wanted to end her holding quickly, for the very reason that she was keen to avoid even the vaguest notion of potential conflict of interest. The company responded to her—and I have seen this material—that it would put in train a divestment process. These are shares in a private company, as we both know.

Senator RONALDSON —What has that got to do with it?

Senator Faulkner —The facts of the matter are she was allocated a small number of shares in the Allen Consulting Group when she was an employee; she declared—

Senator RONALDSON —What has it got to do with whether it is a private company or a public company?

Senator Faulkner —These are the facts, Senator. She declared the shares to Ms McKew, she took steps to divest her holding and did not have anything at all to do with the selection of the company by a department that Ms McKew does not administer. Those are the facts.

Senator RONALDSON —So she had told Ms McKew about the shareholding, had she, or just about the employment?

Senator Faulkner —I have actually answered this question in the Senate, as you know, in relation to that.

Senator RONALDSON —I thought you said before that she was counselled in relation to what she had not told Ms McKew.

Senator Faulkner —She was counselled for failing to adequately bring to the parliamentary secretary’s attention her attempts to divest her shareholding. It might seem harsh in the circumstances. I personally viewed this, as did the committee, as a technical breach and I think the response was appropriate in the circumstances.

Senator RONALDSON —Had Ms Forrester discussed any of these Allen Consulting Group contracts with anyone within the department?

Senator Faulkner —Not to my knowledge.

Senator RONALDSON —Did you ask the question?

Senator Faulkner —No, I did not ask the question but—

Senator RONALDSON —You did not ask her whether she discussed these contracts with anyone?

Senator Faulkner —I have indicated to you that I did not speak to her, so I certainly did not ask her any question.

Senator RONALDSON —Did anyone on the committee ask her whether she had discussed these contracts with anyone within the department?

Senator Faulkner —Ms McKew has satisfied herself about that issue.

Senator RONALDSON —I am not interested in what Ms McKew is satisfied with. You have these guidelines there and you dealt with this matter in three days but the CMAX matter seems to have taken three months. How politically convenient that you were not at a meeting with Ms Forrester—and you are chair of the committee. You made no inquiries of her in relation to whether she has had discussions with the department about these direct-source contracts. You have had no discussion with the department about whether she has discussed these matters with them. It has just been swept under the carpet to get rid of the political issue that you have with this—and which you have with the CMAX affair.

Senator Faulkner —You have just answered your own question as to why, in my view, the government staffing committee took the correct decision in the light of there being an Auditor-General’s report on the CMAX matter to act as it did. You see the sort of outrageous, unjustified, unsupported allegations that can be made. If the government staffing committee had acted and finalised the CMAX matter while the Auditor-General was investigating it, you could imagine the sense of outrage that we would have at this committee. You see, you cannot actually have it both ways.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —He is practising his outrage.

Senator RONALDSON —Not when the Auditor-General asks you to continue it.

Senator Faulkner —The difference here is, and you know this and everyone knows it, that there is an Auditor-General’s inquiry into the CMAX matter; there is no such inquiry or any suggestion of any inquiries of any description in relation to Ms Forrester. I think the approach on both is robust and appropriate.

Senator RONALDSON —You have given the government’s view on this. For the public record and to be absolutely clear on this, you are aware that the allegation is that a staff member of Ms McKew held shares in Allen Consulting and they were given direct-source contracts. Surely you would have asked the question of the department or Ms Forrester as to whether she had had any discussion with the department about—

Senator Faulkner —There is no question about these issues.

Senator RONALDSON —Let me finish.

Senator Faulkner —You can ask them at the relevant estimates committees.

Senator RONALDSON —who those direct-source contracts would go to. This is a convenient, political cover-up.

Senator Faulkner —There is no question about any of these issues. They are not open questions. But you will be able to ascertain that categorically at the relevant estimates committee.

Senator FERGUSON —I think my question is probably better directed at Mr Mrdak, but we will see. Mr Mrdak, earlier in the year, in response to a written question about the Prime Minister’s travels in April, I understand that a response was given that said that the cost to the taxpayer of that trip, which was the fairly lengthy trip that he made to practically everywhere except Japan, was somewhere in the vicinity of $495,000. Is that the correct figure?

Mr Mrdak —I will check that. I am not familiar with that number but I will check that and come straight back to you.

Senator FERGUSON —You have no recollection that that is at least around the mark?

Mr Mrdak —I will have officers check that straightaway and provide you with an answer.

Senator FERGUSON —Well, bearing that in mind, do you know whether the cost for that round-the-world trip with the entourage includes any costings for the use of the two VIP planes that were involved in that trip?

Mr Mrdak —I will ask my colleague Mr Leverett to provide that information.

Mr Leverett —Senator, the first part of your question is correct: the answer to the question on notice was a figure of $491,000 for the March-April trip. On the second part of your question: that figure does not include any aircraft costs. As has been the case for as long as I can remember, those costs are tabled separately.

Senator FERGUSON —Where are they tabled?

Mr Leverett —They are part of the Department of Defence appropriation.

Senator FERGUSON —So if two planes were used on this visit—which, I understand, has not been the norm in the past—what sort of cost recovery was there for the second plane which was used by journalists travelling with the Prime Minister?

Mr Leverett —As to the exact process, you would need to ask that of the Department of Defence. But my understanding is that the media who travelled on the second aircraft were charged the equivalent commercial airfare.

Senator FERGUSON —Business or economy?

Mr Leverett —That I do not know.

Senator FERGUSON —So a trip like this is undertaken with an unlimited number of journalists? Well, there is a limited number of journalists because the plane only holds 26, as I understand it. But is this done without the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet knowing how much it is actually going to cost to take the extra plane on the visit?

Mr Leverett —The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is never involved in the cost of the aircraft.

Senator FERGUSON —But it is still a cost to the taxpayer, isn’t it?

Mr Leverett —It is.

Senator FERGUSON —So I would have to go to the Department of Defence to find out whether or not the fares charged to journalists actually covered the costs of the plane?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I did do that. I simply went to PM&C. So can somebody just work out what the correct approach is here? I asked those questions specifically. I am sorry, Senator Ferguson, since you have asked the question. Can somebody just work out what is going on here? We did that. We were advised to do that last time. I did that, and I got shuffled back to PM&C. So can somebody please provide us with the answer?

Mr Leverett —I am sorry if you were shuffled back to PM&C but we do not get involved in the costings of the VIP aircraft. That is a Defence matter.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Well, I was told that these estimates—would you like me to take you to where I was told this last time?—I had to go to the Department of Defence to get an answer to that specific question. I did ask those questions on notice, and I was told that it was supposed to be answered by PM&C.

Mr Leverett —As I said before, Senator, I am sorry if that is the case.

Senator FERGUSON —Can I make a suggestion: perhaps your department could consult with the Department of Defence and decide who should give us the costs and the cost recovery that is involved. If you have a prime ministerial visit that has already cost $491,000, it would be interesting to find out what the actual cost of that visit was when you consider that two plane loads of people left, and I would imagine that the costs would be well in excess of $491,000 if you were to take into account the cost of travel.

Senator FAULKNER —My understanding here—I can be corrected if I am wrong—is that these are published on an annualised basis by Defence. But, given the answers that Senator Fierravanti-Wells in particular—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Yes, here it is—page 18 of last estimates.

Senator Faulkner —Senator, I accept what you are saying. I know that these answers can be provided. I am not sure about the timing, because I believe it is done on an annualised basis and has been for very many years. But, in answer to the question you are asking, Senator Ferguson, I will provide a process answer to you, if you will take it on notice, and obviously point to this at the appropriate time when these matters are published by Defence. I am just going to check with the officials as to their understanding. I know it is a different department. Mr Mrdak has been able to help further. He believes that publication normally occurs in December of the calendar year.

Senator FERGUSON —So, of all the visits that are undertaken by VIP aircraft, they only produce an annual figure of expenditure.

Mr Leverett —That is my understanding.

Senator Faulkner —I think it is annual. That is my recollection from my years on the other side of the table, and I am depending on that.

Senator FERGUSON —Surely, if it is possible to provide an annual figure, the annual figure must be reached by adding up all of the sum of the parts.

Senator Faulkner —I suspect you are right.

Senator FERGUSON —So you should be able to provide us a figure that would tell us what the costs were for each particular trip.

Senator Faulkner —This has been asked, even quite recently, of the Department of Defence. Someone might care to ask them these same questions at the Foreign Affairs and Defence estimates committee later in the week, but I will at least provide you with a definitive process answer. I accept what Senator Fierravanti-Wells has said. She has given us a Hansard reference, which is beneficial. We will provide that. But I think any further detail, if it is able to be provided—and I suspect it is not, because of that timing—could be done by Defence at a later stage.

Senator FERGUSON —Can PM&C tell me how many people travelled on that delegation with the Prime Minister in each of the planes—both the Prime Minister’s entourage and the number of journalists?

Senator Faulkner —Which trip are we talking about?

Senator FERGUSON —The one in April that went to the US, Britain, Europe and China.

Mr Leverett —We can certainly answer the question. I do not have that information with me. That trip occurred before the last sitting of estimates, of course, therefore I am not prepared with that information.

Senator FERGUSON —The problem is that a lot of the information has only come in since the last estimates. Do you have an answer, Minister?

Senator Faulkner —No. Because of the timing, I did not realise that the trip you are referring to preceded the last estimates.

Senator FERGUSON —It preceded the last estimates, but the information—

Senator Faulkner —Yes, I apologise for that. I did not realise that.

Senator FERGUSON —Is it a fact that if the two aircraft had a full complement of passengers I think that would total 52? If this is the case, why would the embassy in Brussels be asked to book 60 rooms to cover the entourage that was travelling with the Prime Minister?

Mr Leverett —I would have to look at the papers to be certain of the answer, but my understanding is that officials from different departments joined at different legs of that particular trip. So not everybody involved in that particular trip travelled on every leg of the visit.

Senator FERGUSON —It is certainly the case for Mr L’Estrange, because he was not asked until the trip was half over. I would be surprised if every seat on both planes was filled but, if they were, how could 60 rooms be justified?

Senator Faulkner —I think these are six-monthly reports; they are not annual reports.

Senator FERGUSON —I am talking about a particular visit.

Senator Faulkner —I understand that, but I think I indicated, or we indicated, in evidence that they were annual reports. I have just been advised that they are in fact six-monthly reports. It may impact on your question.

Senator FERGUSON —My question really is that I understand that the entourage did not stay at the usual place that is booked by the embassy when Australia visits Brussels or anywhere in Europe related to European Union matters because there were not enough rooms in the hotel and they had to find another hotel that could provide 60 rooms. I am wondering why on earth 60 rooms would be required by the Prime Minister.

Senator FORSHAW —Were you able to recommend a hotel for them, Alan.

Mr Leverett —As I said before, in addition to the fact that there were people joining different legs of that particular visit, there is also the additional requirement of office space for a prime ministerial visit. A number of rooms are required for offices and delegation meeting rooms.

Senator FERGUSON —I understand that.

Mr Leverett —That would also account for some of what you claim are the extra 10 rooms.

Senator FERGUSON —Could you find out for me how many people actually travelled on each of those planes—both the Prime Minister’s plane and the other plane.

Mr Leverett —I can tell you now that the Prime Minister’s plane was full on every sector of that trip.

Senator FERGUSON —Twenty-six?

Mr Leverett —I believe it was 24. In fact it was actually fewer than that because the RAAF require a number of seats in zone C of the aircraft. But I will give you the exact number of party as opposed to passengers, because there is a difference. I understand that there is a small RAAF component. I will give you both figures. For the media aircraft, I do not know the numbers but I will find out quickly for you and come back to you.

Senator FERGUSON —On how many occasions, on any prime ministerial visit overseas by this Prime Minister or the previous Prime Minister, has an extra VIP plane been taken just to accommodate the travelling journalists.

Mr Leverett —To my knowledge there has only been one occasion where a second RAAF aircraft has been used, but for completeness of answer, there have been two subsequent occasions where a charter aircraft—a second aircraft but not a RAAF aircraft—has been used. So three in total.

Senator FERGUSON —Who has chartered the other aircraft?

Mr Leverett —The Department of Defence chartered it.

Senator FERGUSON —Specifically for journalists.

Mr Leverett —For the PM’s visit, yes.

Senator Faulkner —Senator, you would recall of course that there were changes made in relation to this in the aftermath of the tragic—

Senator FERGUSON —Yes, I do remember that.

Senator Faulkner —The air crash that occurred in Yogyakarta. I am just trying to think what the date was.

Senator FERGUSON —About 18 months ago.

Senator Faulkner —As a result of that and because of concerns that I think were shared around the parliament we have looked at changes to the way that some of this travel is undertaken. So I think it is important to put that in the context of why—

Senator FERGUSON —But I would not think the same rules would apply in travelling to the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe as would apply to some other areas. Journalists have been travelling on commercial aircraft for a long time.

Senator Faulkner —That is true. And as a result of what occurred at Yogyakarta there were changes to that broad approach. It is important to understand that background as we look at the costings.

Senator FORSHAW —They went on a Qantas flight recently.

Senator FERGUSON —Mr Leverett, to sum it up, what I would like you to do is find out what the additional cost to the taxpayer is of flying a VIP plane to accommodate journalists over and above what they pay by way of fares. I need to know the total cost of that flight for the VIP aircraft balanced against the total cost of the fares paid by the journalists to know what additional costs are on the taxpayer as a result of—either by charter or by using VIP—the Department of Defence footing the bill on behalf of the Australian taxpayer.

Senator Faulkner —It may be that that question will need to be referred to the Department of Defence—and we will do this if necessary.

Senator FERGUSON —I understand that. I will ask them the same thing.

Senator Faulkner —It is six-monthly tabling. The last tabling was in May of this calendar year. That covered the period July to December 2007. In approximately December of this year, we would expect the next six-monthly report to be tabled which will provide obviously some of the information that you have asked, but with the cooperation of the committee and if you understand, Senator, it may be necessary to actually refer that to the Department of Defence.

Senator FERGUSON —How many people actually flew on the second of VIP jet? That will determine to some extent what the cost recovery might be.

Mr Leverett —We have noted that, Senator.

Senator Faulkner —The manifests are subject also to tabling.

Senator FERGUSON —Yes, it is just that I do not want to have to wait until December.

Senator Faulkner —I understand that, but you may have to. We will see whether we can accelerate the process. I cannot give you a commitment and it will probably need to be dealt with via Defence.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I did get my records and indeed you made that reference directing me to the Department of Defence. The Department of Defence did transfer the question on 1 July to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration. In any case, it does not appear to have been answered. The bottom line is that, notwithstanding that the questions were raised at estimates and I went through the circuitous process of going through Defence for the purposes of PM&C, you did not actually answer the question for me. However, you provided the names of 13 people who travelled with the Prime Minister on the trip to the US, Belgium, Romania, the UK and China. That is 13 out of 60, allegedly. That is a lot of press.

Senator FERGUSON —There were two planes because they booked for the journalists.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I appreciate the need to take into account Defence staff et cetera—and I did not expect to see the names of those—but that indicates quite a number of journalists.

Senator Faulkner —My recollection of your question is that it went to staff travel—is that right?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —No, my question on this matter was put on notice.

Senator Faulkner —Did it go to ministerial staff travel?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —No, one question did, the one to the Department of Defence specifically about the Prime Minister’s travel.

Senator Faulkner —Some of the elements of this of course are properly also handled by the Department of Finance and Deregulation. In the same spirit as I have indicated to Senator Ferguson, we will sort it through. It may be that some elements of the question or your question relate obviously to the Department of Defence.

Senator FERGUSON —If Senator Fierravanti-Wells has received an answer saying that 13 people accompanied the Prime Minister, who were the other nine? You said the Prime Minister’s plane was full. There are another nine seats.

Mr Leverett —Do you have that answer with you, Senator?


Mr Leverett —I do not have it with me. Does that 13 refer to the Prime Minister’s staff?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —That is the point about being paid by the Department of Finance and Deregulation.

Mr Leverett —So there was 13 from the PM’s office plus officials from other departments, a doctor, security, et cetera.

Senator FIFIELD —Not a butler?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Yes, I will come to that in a moment, if it is an appropriate time.

Senator Faulkner —It is never appropriate.

Senator FIFIELD —You will recall, I am sure, earlier this year a cabinet submission in the nature of coordination and comments which found their way into the public domain—comments from PM&C, Finance, Resources and Industry raising questions about Fuelwatch in relation to price compliance and regulatory grounds.

Senator Faulkner —In answer to your question, Senator, I do recall that.

Senator FIFIELD —Thank you. I am sure you will be able to confirm, or correct me if this is wrong, that as a result of that there was a leak inquiry instituted by the secretary of PM&C and also a review of access to cabinet papers.

Senator Faulkner —Yes, there was an investigation, I think effectively initiated by the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I can confirm to you that that was an Australian Federal Police investigation.

Senator FIFIELD —And any result of that inquiry?

Senator Faulkner —I can say to you that the investigation is now concluded and that it concluded that there was insufficient evidence at the time to substantiate a criminal charge or disciplinary action against any individual for the unauthorised disclosure that occurred.

Senator FIFIELD —As is usually the result in these inquiries.

Senator Faulkner —I will treat that as editorial comment.

Senator FIFIELD —It was; it was purely rhetorical. You might be able to help me here: is it true that there was a direction to cease providing coordination comments to cabinet submissions in written form?

Senator Faulkner —I might ask Mr Mrdak to explain the situation in relation to coordination comments, but I indicate to you that this only related of course to the department we are examining at the moment, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. But Mr Mrdak can give you all the details on that that you require.

Mr Mrdak —When the investigation was announced by the secretary on 28 May, a decision was taken within the department to cease providing written coordination comments until such time as the results of the investigation were known. There were two processes undertaken, as the minister has outlined. The Australian Federal Police undertook an investigation and the secretary made a public statement of the outcomes of that investigation on 29 August. Also the cabinet division within the department undertook an internal investigation of our systems, which also looked at the security of our systems. Given the media reporting of the material being released from PM&C, we felt until such time as we could be assured of the security of our systems we would not provide written coordination comments. Arrangements were put in place to provide PM&C’s coordination comments to departments and also we did not change any of the existing and longstanding practices in relation to briefing material for the Prime Minister or ministers in relation to cabinet submissions.

Senator FIFIELD —So coordination comments were verbal.

Mr Mrdak —As you are aware, we are often closely involved in the development of cabinet submissions through consultative processes with line agencies. We continued to conduct all of those. When a submission was lodged for coordination comment, we provided, after clearance through the normal processes within the department at senior levels, coordination views to the relevant agency senior officer which were then reflected in that agency’s briefing to their minister.

Senator FIFIELD —How were those years provided?

Mr Mrdak —Verbally.

Senator FIFIELD —So the other agency would then incorporate into its submission the views of PM&C.

Mr Mrdak —If they felt the submission required amendment as a result of hearing our views, but more than likely they would have reflected those views in their briefing to their minister.

Senator FIFIELD —When those views were incorporated if it was deemed appropriate, were they identify as the views or thoughts of PM&C or did they then become the views and thoughts of that department or agency and were presented in that nature?

Mr Mrdak —I would presume that they would be presented to their minister as the views of PM&C.

Senator FIFIELD —And that is no longer the process: once the process inquiry was concluded, it is back to the regular—

Mr Mrdak —That continues to be the process. We are looking to shortly recommence providing written coordination comments. We are now completing the introduction of a range of additional security measures in relation to the provision of coordination comments and also the handling and security of cabinet documentation following recommendations by both the AFP and also our own internal review.

A number of measures have now been put in place inside departments to restrict the availability of material to those who need to know and see material. Additional security measures in terms of education and auditing of processes and also some additional security measures on the CabNet network are now being processed. Once those are all in place, which we expect to take place in the next week or so, we believe we will be in a position where we have enough assurance to recommence providing written coordination comments.

Senator FIFIELD —Does this verbal briefing arrangement reflect a lack of confidence in processes, a lack of confidence and trust in staff or both?

Mr Mrdak —It reflects the concerns that were raised in the media articles at the time that material of PM&C was being leaked. We took decisive action to take—until such time as we could ensure that our processes were secure—a different course of action in relation to how we provided advice.

Senator FIFIELD —I will ask again: is that aimed primarily at a lack of confidence in the processes or in staff?

Mr Mrdak —I think it reflects some degree of lack of confidence in relation to the handling of material that PM&C provides to other agencies.

Senator FIFIELD —So the concern relates to the other agencies rather than PM&C staff?

Mr Mrdak —The results of our investigations do not indicate that this material emanated from PM&C.

Senator FIFIELD —That is good to hear, I am sure. Through you, Minister, is it true that, as reported in the Financial Review magazine in October, following the cabinet leak Mr Moran advised all departments to watch their language in future coord comments in case they one day surfaced in public?

Senator Faulkner —I am certainly not aware of that. That is one article I have not read. I do not know if Mr Mrdak can help on this.

Senator FIFIELD —That surprises me, Senator Faulkner.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I am surprised.

Senator Faulkner —I know you are an avid reader of the Financial Review magazine, Senator Fierravanti-Wells, though I have never seen you actually star in it at this stage. I am expecting that next week.

Senator FIFIELD —Senator Faulkner, is it possible to take on notice whether that was the advice from Mr Moran to the department, to ‘watch your language’? If that is true, it could be taken that that was encouraging staff to provide other than the full and frank advice which we know this government seeks.

Senator Faulkner —I will in this circumstance take it on notice. Neither I nor officials, in this case, Mr Mrdak, are aware of the comments. In that circumstance I do not think we have any alternative but to take it on notice.

Senator FIFIELD —Thank you; I appreciate that. My concern here and in relation to the provision of verbal PM&C coord comments is how this fits with the Prime Minister’s penchant for evidence based policy making. You would assume that he would want public servants to provide full and frank advice and not pull their punches or couch their language because their main concern was how it might read if that information became public rather than providing the best advice to government.

Mr Mrdak —I do not believe there is any suggestion that the arrangements we put in place as a short-term measure have in any way affected the quality of the advice from PM&C or the way in which the cabinet has been briefed on matters. We have continued to provide the normal briefing to the Prime Minister, Minister Faulkner and other ministers on issues, and agencies are fully aware of our views on matters. I do not think in any way this would represent a diminution of our role as a policy adviser.

Senator FIFIELD —But there would be many matters on which PM&C would be required to provide coord comments which would be quite complex in nature and would not best lend themselves to discussion in a verbal fashion—matters of such complexity that to do justice to them it would be helpful to have those in written form.

Mr Mrdak —But certainly, Senator, as you are aware, we are often involved quite closely in the development of the policy and the development of the submissions as they are being developed by line agencies. So, throughout the development of submissions, memoranda and the like, I think agencies are well aware of the view PM&C reaches on the material they are producing, and that is often reflected in the advice they provide their minister in relation to the issues coming forward.

Senator FIFIELD —I would be surprised if the restriction on providing any written briefing did not compromise the quality of the advice provided. You say that in your own personal experience that has not been the case. I will have to take you at your word, but I must say I am very surprised. I appreciate the minister taking on notice whether Mr Moran did ask staff to be mindful of how their language might appear in print. Thank you for that.

Moving to another matter, and I am sure, again, Senator Faulkner, you recall some of the circumstances that Ms Neal, the member for Robertson, found herself in earlier this year. The Prime Minister on 11 June, when he was in Tokyo, was asked if he thought that Ms Neal should be disciplined and the Prime Minister said:

… “I spoke to Belinda Neal today and I’ve said to her that there appears to be a pattern of unacceptable behaviour.

“Furthermore, what I’ve said to Ms Neal is that in reflecting on that, that it’s important that this be dealt with by her appropriately in the future.

“She has indicated that as a result of our conversation that she’ll actually be seeking counselling to assist in her own management of her relationships with other people.

“I’ve also reminded her that none of us, none of us, are guaranteed of a future in politics.”

‘None of us are guaranteed of a future in politics’—never a truer word was said. Minister Faulkner, in your capacity representing the Prime Minister, are you aware of whether the Prime Minister has been monitoring whether or not Ms Neal received any counselling?

Senator Faulkner —No, I cannot say that I am aware of that, but I am aware of public statements that Ms Neal herself has made about that. In fact, not only has she indicated publicly that she has received such counselling, but I have certainly read and heard her say that she has benefited from it.

Senator FIFIELD —Are you aware of whether the Prime Minister or his office has made any inquiries in relation to counselling?

Senator Faulkner —I have just indicated that Ms Neal herself has made comments in relation to that. No, of course I would not be aware of any personal contact the Prime Minister might have had with Ms Neal. He outlined the course of action he expected her to undertake, Ms Neal undertook that course of action and, as I am sure you would be aware—as you appear to follow these things fairly closely, Senator—she has indicated that publicly.

Senator FIFIELD —I know the Prime Minister keeps a very close watch on the commitments that he makes, as does his office, and that he is someone who likes to evidence that he has acted upon his commitments. Appreciating that you do not have firsthand knowledge of what the Prime Minister or his office has or has not inquired about, is it possible to take on notice whether the Prime Minister has monitored this?

Senator Faulkner —I do not think there is any necessity to do so in this circumstance. Let me repeat: I have definitely heard Ms Neal say, as I am sure other members of the committee have, two things, (a) she has received such counselling and (b) she has benefited from it. So I do not really think on this occasion—respectfully, Senator—there is a need for us to. It is certainly clear that it has happened. I am pleased that she has been able to say she thinks it has been beneficial, and I am sure you are pleased that she thinks it has been beneficial too.

Senator FIFIELD —I hope that is indeed the case. I would appreciate it if you could take it on notice, unless—

Senator Faulkner —I am not sure what I am taking on notice. It has been clear—

Senator FIFIELD —you are declining to do so. If you are declining to do so—

Senator Faulkner —It is not that; it is just that I am answering your question: yes, Ms Neal said herself there has been counselling and, yes, she said it has been beneficial. I am not sure if there is much else to say in this regard.

Senator FIFIELD —We will move on. Senator Faulkner, who takes the decision in relation to the granting of a state funeral? Is that a decision that the Prime Minister takes on advice or is that something which falls under your responsibility?

Senator Faulkner —I will ask officials to go through this process for you—how it works. Mr Leverett can explain that to you in some detail, I think you will find.

Mr Leverett —There is no one simple mechanism by which a state funeral occurs. What is consistent is that the Prime Minister is the approving authority. On some occasions, the Prime Minister will become aware that a person has died and will take the initiative. On other occasions, we in the department will become aware and then go to the Prime Minister’s office for a decision. But ultimately the Prime Minister makes the decision. How the information gets to him, as I said, can vary.

Senator FIFIELD —There was one recent funeral—I think there was a request for a state funeral for a Mr Sam Calder, a former member for the Northern Territory and a prominent Territory citizen. Was there a request submitted for a state funeral, or was a state funeral offered?

Mr Leverett —Yes and no are the simple answers. The initial request, if you like, for a state funeral came, in fact, from the media—from the Northern Territory News. There was, at a later point, a letter from a senator from the Northern Territory recommending consideration of a state funeral, so there was a more formal subsequent approach. My advice, as the relevant official in the department, to the Prime Minister’s office was that—and this is a bit delicate, in a sense, and I acknowledge, before I say what I am about to say, that Mr Calder was an undoubted legend or icon of the Northern Territory across a range of areas or professions, and war service and the like—in my judgement, he did not qualify for a state funeral. That was the advice that I gave to the Prime Minister’s office. Who ultimately made the decision I am not sure, but the advice I received back from the office was that there would not be a Commonwealth state funeral for Mr Calder.

Senator FIFIELD —Sure. And, as you mentioned, he had had a distinguished service career.

Mr Leverett —Absolutely.

Senator FIFIELD —I think he completed over 120 flying missions, and received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery. He was instrumental in the cattle industry in the Northern Territory. He was a founding member of a major political party, the Country Liberal Party, in the Territory. He also had great and distinguished service in the federal parliament representing the Northern Territory.

Mr Leverett —And he was instrumental in self-government for the Northern Territory, as well.

Senator FIFIELD —Thank you for adding that. You would be aware that, subsequent to the Commonwealth declining to offer a state funeral to Mr Calder’s family, the Northern Territory government did offer one.

Mr Leverett —It did offer one; correct.

Senator FIFIELD —It offered a state funeral and was accepted.

Mr Leverett —Yes, and that was an outcome that we regarded as appropriate.

Senator FIFIELD —Sure. Are there any criteria for the awarding of a state funeral, or is it purely in the gift of the Prime Minister to make a decision on a case-by-case basis?

Mr Leverett —No, there are guidelines and they have been tabled in this committee in the past. I recall—as might the minister at the table; I recall answering a detailed question from him in another context—

Senator Faulkner —An excellent question!

Mr Leverett —Those papers are available and I think I have a copy of the guidelines here, in fact, or the answer to that particular question. But essentially it is governors-general, prime ministers, executive councillors and chief justices of the High Court, either former or in office, and the current leaders or deputy leaders of recognised political parties, in the parliamentary sense of ‘recognised’, of having a number of members and so on in the parliament. They are the formal, if you like, categories. Beyond that, prime ministers of the day have extended the offer to prominent Australians with a national profile, if you like. Some examples would be ‘Weary’ Dunlop, Fred Hollows, Sir Donald Bradman and so on.

Senator FORSHAW —Kerry Packer.

Senator FIFIELD —Worthy exemptions are identified by Prime Ministers on a case-by-case basis. I appreciate you explaining that. I just register my disappointment that on this occasion this individual was not offered a state funeral, but I completely accept that, ultimately, it is the Prime Minister’s decision not yours; you provide your best advice.

Senator Faulkner —Are you going to move to another matter? Mr Mrdak has a minor technical correction to provide.

Senator FIFIELD —Sure.

Mr Mrdak —Earlier today, I answered a question from Senator Ronaldson in relation to Mr Peter Stephens. I answered that my advice was that he was formerly employed with the Department of the Senate. I would like to correct that. I am advised that he was employed by the Department of the House of Representatives in the role of committee secretary, which was a non-SES position.

Could I also provide a further answer to Senator Ronaldson in relation to resourcing for the register of lobbyists. This year’s budget papers provides resourcing to the department for the register of lobbyists as follows: $200,000 in 2008-09, $300,000 in 2009-10 and $300,000 in 2010-11, with $300,000 this year for capital which is essentially the IT system to support the register of lobbyists and the website which supports it.

Senator RONALDSON —Thank you.

Senator RYAN —I would like an answer clarified about coordinating comments. Have other departments adopted a similar approach or was it solely the Prime Minister and Cabinet that has adopted the verbal and non-written approach that you outlined?

Mr Mrdak —That is an approach only adopted by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator RYAN —Other departments are still providing written advice?

Mr Mrdak —Other departments continue to provide written coordination comments. As I indicated earlier to Senator Fifield, our intention is to resume that practice once we have put our additional security measures in place.

Senator RYAN —Is there a time line on that practice?

Mr Mrdak —I had hoped we would have done that by now. I expect that to occur in the next couple of weeks. We are just instituting revised cabinet security procedures. Once they are in place and some additional measures, our intention is to resume providing written coordination comments.

Senator RYAN —Thank you. Does the department hold information of SES appointments across the entire Australian Public Service?

Mr Mrdak —No.

Senator RYAN —Only of the department?

Mr Mrdak —Only within our department.

Senator RYAN —I presume in that case it would have the details of such appointments within its own department and associated agencies?

Mr Mrdak —Yes, certainly within the department I can provide advice in relation to those appointments. In relation to our portfolio agencies, you may wish to put that to the agencies direct or we can, if you like, seek advice from the committee.

Senator RYAN —I assume you will have to take this question on notice. If there were any such appointments since Mr Moran took office as the secretary of the department, how many at band 4 and above have been undertaken without the standard advertising and merit selection process?

Mr Mrdak —I can say that there have been no ongoing positions filled that have not been filled through normal public service advertising and merit selection processes. All permanent positions are filled through the standard APS requirements.

Senator RYAN —Presumably, if they are recruited from another branch of the public service, being state or Commonwealth, you would have information on where they came from to go through that merit selection process?

Mr Mrdak —Certainly. When I say the merit selection process, if people are being recruited into the department not from another agency, there would be some people who would transfer at level who may not have been through a full process—they transfer at level for particular skills—but in most situations they would go through that process. You are asking for details of the agencies from which they have come?

Senator RYAN —If they transfer at level, is that only within the Australian Public Service and the ACT or does that apply also to the various states?

Mr Mrdak —No, it generally applies to the Australian public service.

Senator RYAN —For appointments at that band and above that have been made since Mr Moran took up his position, is it possible to outline how many such officers have been appointed from within the state public services?

Mr Mrdak —I will take that on notice.

Senator RYAN —I have a final question. Minister, it is probably more appropriate to start with you. Have you or anyone who has presented to us so far today and is likely to present to us later in the day had any media or presentation training or coaching this year from an external trainer?

Senator Faulkner —Thank you for asking me that question, Senator. I thought it would be patently obvious that I have not had any media training—

Senator RYAN —But you are very photogenic.

Senator FIFIELD —Senator Faulkner tends to give it. He is the instructor.

Senator Faulkner —I can assure you that I have had no media training. I cannot speak for my colleagues. Let me check. We are not aware of any such training in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. But Mr Mrdak will check for all others except myself; I can be categorical.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Minister, I would like to follow up on some questions that were asked on the last occasion in relation to staff in the Prime Minister’s office. I am careful to ask it now in PM&C after I was suitably reprimanded that it was not done in this section. Can I take you to answers to questions. I had been asking questions about the staff list that had emanated allegedly, we were told, from the Prime Minister’s office. The department replied that you could not confirm the veracity of this unsourced document. Do I take it that in future, unless it is in the Government Directory, we should not take any notice of anything that emanates from lists from ministers’ offices? Is that the case? We were told it was a document that came out of the Prime Minister’s office.

Senator Faulkner —I would not draw such a conclusion.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Notwithstanding that a document emanated from the Prime Minister’s office, you have answered that you could not confirm the veracity of this unsourced document. I just put that on the record.

I asked specifically on the last occasion about the duties of the Prime Minister’s travel assistant, Jeeves as he became affectionately known. I was very concerned to ascertain from you his specific duties. I am pleased to see that you did reply or the department replied by telling us that he provides assistance with paper flow management, gifts and invitations and his duties are determined by the Prime Minister’s chief of staff. That was interesting. I noticed that Mr Fisher travelled with the Prime Minister. I was interested to see where the travel assistant had stayed, particularly in relation to the Prime Minister’s overseas visit to the US, Belgium, Romania, the UK and China. I noticed that the answer that was provided to me was that the travel assistant stayed at non-commercial accommodation with the Prime Minister on that occasion. My question to you is, because so much was made on the last occasion in estimates in denying that he was a butler or valet or other form of assistant, what sort of paperwork, paper flow management, gifts and invitations would this travel assistant be required to undertake that required him to stay at our residences in Beijing, New York and Washington? If he was not performing the sorts of duties of butler that we were alleging on the last occasion, what other duties would he have been performing that required him to stay at our residences in Beijing, New York and Washington? I would not otherwise have raised but for the fact that so much was made on the last occasion—

Senator Faulkner —By you, Senator.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Well, by you, Minister. It was simply agreeing to Senator Ronaldson saying—

Senator Faulkner —Always a risky business, I have found; I am very reluctant to do that.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —that this person was basically a butler. On your own evidence it is very clear, certainly on that overseas occasion. I will not even take you to the information that was given in response to his travel and where he goes. It is very clear that he travels very regularly with the Prime Minister and stays overnight in places where the Prime Minister is. Do you still hold to the ferocious denials of the last occasion that this guy is not in fact a butler?

Senator Faulkner —My reticence in agreeing with anything that Senator Ronaldson says has left me in pretty good stead on this committee—

Senator RONALDSON —I think that you are all the poorer for it.

Senator Faulkner —I suppose you do think that. I am very comfortable in taking a very cautious approach indeed to what is said to me. The executive assistant that you refer to in the Prime Minister’s Office—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Your answers to estimates referred to ‘travel assistant’. Why don’t we compromise on ‘travel assistant’?

Senator Faulkner —What I would say to you, Senator, is that you would know, I am sure, that in relation to ministerial and for that matter shadow ministerial staff, you have offices, the Prime Minister’s Office, for example, made up of people who provide a range of services—from policy advice, political advice and administrative assistants. As I say, it is a skills set I think that we all understand. It is fair to say that it is a skills set that is reflected in the Leader of the Opposition’s office, in ministerial offices and in shadow ministerial offices and the like. You have outlined what the executive assistant does. We have administrative staff arrangements in the Prime Minister’s Office, which include an executive assistant who undertakes the roles that you have outlined. I would suggest to you that it is a totally unremarkable arrangement.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I am interested because your answer says that it was the Prime Minister and the travel assistant who stayed at the residences. Look, I appreciate that, Senator Faulkner, but the point is that the paperwork that has now been provided to us confirms what we were asking about on the last occasion—that this Prime Minister—the sheer arrogance of the man—was trying to deny the existence of the butler and here he is. He is travelling around the world; staying at residences for what other purpose? That was the point that I was making. What sort of paper flow management, gifts and invitations does he assist with if he is not acting in the duties of a butler by staying with the Prime Minister in our residences overseas. It is pretty simple. That is really the point.

Senator FORSHAW —Why do I think that you know so much about butlers, Senator Fierravanti-Wells? You are a bit of an expert on butlers.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I certainly do not have a butler—

Senator FORSHAW —You obviously have a lot of contact with butlers—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —but the Prime Minister does.

Senator FORSHAW —swanning around down at Lake Illawarra with your butler.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I really wanted to make that point.

Senator Faulkner —Just so that I am clear, which particular question—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I asked questions about the travel assistant.

CHAIR —And the minister is trying to answer.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —No, the minister asked me a question.

Senator Faulkner —I am just trying to ascertain whether you are referring to question PM 156D. Is that the one that you are referring to?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I am referring to a series of questions. I am referring to F19 and F20. I am sure that they will make for interesting reading for you, Minister.

Senator Faulkner —Fine. I have in front of me PM156d, which is where you asked if the travelling assistant for the Prime Minister stays at the same place as the Prime Minister. The answer provided was:

There was nobody with that title travelling with the Prime Minister.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Well isn’t that a cute answer.

Senator Faulkner —No, it is an accurate answer. You may consider it cute but I consider it accurate. The point being that the executive system that we have spoken about does have the broad skills set that you have outlined. I would say to you, Senator, that this is a skills set that is required by the Prime Minister, regardless of where he might be—whether he is in Canberra or away from Canberra.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —It is very clear that he really requires the skill set provided by this gentleman, because he seems to spend a lot of time travelling around the countryside and the world with him—

Senator RONALDSON —Doing as we said he was.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Doing what we said he was.

Senator CORMANN —My question relates to the last COAG meeting on 2 October in my home state of Western Australia. I have no doubt that the Prime Minister and all of the eastern state premiers would have enjoyed Western Australian hospitality! But specifically I am focused on the agreement that was reached to bring forward the next COAG meeting to 17 November to finalise the National Health Reform Agenda and the next Australian healthcare agreement. My opening question is: are you confident of meeting that deadline of 17 November to finalise the next Australian healthcare agreement and to finalise the National Health Reform Agenda moving forward?

Senator Faulkner —If you can bear with us for a moment, we will just get some relevant officials for you, who I suspect are in the next room. Ms Wilson and Ms Cass are going to assist us here.

Ms Wilson —Work is on track for all of the national agreements that are to be considered by COAG on 17 November across the health and ageing agenda, the education productivity and skills development agenda and the other elements of the reform agenda.

Senator CORMANN —I specifically refer you to the Prime Minister’s pre-election commitment that he would take to a referendum a takeover at the Commonwealth level of the running of our 750 public hospitals if the states fail to lift their game on hospital performance by the middle of next year. Have you done any work around putting some frameworks and definitions around the sort of benchmarks that would indicate failure or a sufficient lifting in performance?

Ms Wilson —All of the national agreements will have benchmarks in them for performance, including the national healthcare agreements. They are currently being developed and negotiated for COAG’s consideration.

Senator CORMANN —So the next COAG meeting is essentially just over six months before the deadline is reached, by which time the states will have to have met the required lifting of their performance, but you have not put out there or published the sort of definitions or benchmarks that states would have to reach for us to be able to ascertain whether they had met those performance expectations or not?

Ms Wilson —The healthcare agreements, as I indicated, will include performance targets. In addition there are a range of election commitments that had specific performance benchmarks to be met in relation to specific elements of health services.

Senator CORMANN —So when will those performance benchmarks actually be made public?

Ms Wilson —When the national agreements are made public, I would anticipate that they would be made public.

Senator CORMANN —That is towards the end of this year. Is that when it will be?

Ms Wilson —I would anticipate that the national agreements will become public documents when COAG has agreed them.

Senator CORMANN —But I refer again to the pre-election commitment. It is still on the Prime Minister’s website:

… if significant progress toward the implementation of the reforms has not been achieved by mid-2009, the Government will seek a mandate from the Australian people at the following federal election for the Commonwealth to take financial control of Australia’s 750 public hospitals.

At this stage, from what I am hearing you say, you are not quite sure whether you will be able to publish the performance benchmarks and targets by the end of the year. If they are not published then we have less than six months to judge whether the states are able to meet those targets before a fundamental decision like taking over the running of public hospitals is put to a referendum. That seems like a very tight timeframe, does it not?

Ms Wilson —Senator, COAG is the entity that makes the decision on what it publishes in respect of the reforms that are in front of them, and I would anticipate that it will make decisions in November when it considers these agreements as to what elements of the agreements, if not all of them, are public.

Senator CORMANN —Are you doing any work within PM&C, and I am not so much interested in broader COAG dynamics, I am interested in the context that there was a commitment made by the Prime Minister to make a decision in the middle of 2009 as to whether significant enough progress has been made toward the implementation of the reforms. Have you put together any documentation, any definitions, as to what ‘significant progress’ would mean from the Commonwealth’s point of view? In the middle of 2009 just over six months after the COAG meeting, how will you know whether we are going to put this to a referendum or not?

Senator Faulkner —The officials at the table cannot respond to that particular question because it goes to the nature of policy advice and, as you would appreciate, that is off limits here. We will try to assist you wherever we can relating to the process issues surrounding COAG—

Senator CORMANN —With all due respect, Minister, I disagree. I am not asking about the content of policy. I am asking about the process. A policy commitment was put out there by the Prime Minister before the election which is very specific. I am asking the officials whether they have assisted the government, whether they have assisted the Prime Minister, to put some benchmarks and processes around that particular policy announcement to ensure that it can be implemented if that is what the government decides to do. How will the Prime Minister know in the middle of 2009 whether or not insufficient progress has been made? What are the sort of targets that the department has put together for it? Have targets been put together? When are they going to be released?

Senator Faulkner —Senator, beyond what officials have told you about the development of targets, I am sorry, but there is no further detail on that that can be provided for the reasons I have outlined, which I am sure you would understand given the longstanding precedents of the way these committees work on these issues. We will do the best we can. We will strive to answer all the process questions we can. But in terms of advice to government, that is something we cannot delve into and we will not delve into.

Senator CORMANN —I am not looking for advice to government. I just note that to date no targets have been publicly released. The answer I have just received is that officials are hopeful that those targets might be able to be released by the end of the year but that is not certain—correct me if I am summarising it the wrong way. I note the Prime Minister’s pre-election commitment that, if significant progress towards the implementation of the reforms has not been achieved by mid-2009, the government will seek a mandate from the Australian people at the following election to take financial control of Australia’s 750 public hospitals. So putting all of that together I note that there is at best six months in which to judge whether sufficient progress has been made.

In that context, has any of the states and territories asked for additional funding to compensate for the impact of the Medicare levy surcharge measure at the COAG meeting on 2 October?

Ms Wilson —No, Senator. My understanding is they have not.

Senator CORMANN —Is this something that is being discussed at an official level in the lead-up to the 17 November COAG meeting?

Ms Wilson —In the lead-up to the November COAG meeting there are various options under consideration and development that will be negotiated that go to the level of funding for the health care agreements and other reform proposals. But there has not been the issue that you have identified specifically raised in that context that I am aware of.

Senator CORMANN —Are you discussing at present in any way, shape or form at an officer level additional funding to compensate for the impact of the Medicare levy surcharge legislation?

Senator Faulkner —Senator, same problem with that question. Unless you can rephrase it in a way that enables officials to answer, I am afraid we will have to, in cricketing parlance, let it go through to the keeper.

Senator CORMANN —Has anybody raised with you concerns about $2.5 billion in funding that would otherwise be available for hospital treatment leaving the health system as a result of the Medicare levy surcharge measure?

Ms Wilson —As I mentioned, in the meetings in which I have participated on development of the health care agreement and I attend the health and ageing working group meetings which are chaired by Minister Roxon and have representatives from the states and territories, that issue has not been raised.

Senator CORMANN —All of the state and territory health ministers at various times have raised concerns about the impact of the Medicare levy surcharge measure on public hospitals. I find it very hard to believe it is not something that has been discussed at all. Can we maybe go broader than the meetings that you have attended? Can I maybe put it on notice as a question—

Senator Faulkner —You cannot ask officials to do that. You cannot ask them to go broader than meetings that they have attended.

Senator CORMANN —No, what I am saying is can I ask as a question on notice whether any PM&C official has participated in meetings with state and territory government officials at which the issue of flow-on implications for state and territory public hospitals was raised and any requirement for additional funding to compensate for the impact of the Medicare levy surcharge measure.

Senator Faulkner —I will certainly take the question on notice for you. Whether we will be able to provide a very fulsome answer, I simply do not know. I have outlined to you some of the constraints under which we operate but I will certainly see what can be done to provide a response to that question on notice for you.

Senator CORMANN —Thank you, minister. Just to conclude: your government is currently considering putting to the Australian people the takeover of the running of public hospitals in Canberra at a time when you are actually taking $2.5 billion worth of funding out of the health system. I believe you are setting them up for failure. I am concerned if this is not an issue that is being raised at COAG in the lead-up to the next COAG meeting which is supposed to set the national health reform agenda moving forward. I conclude with that, Madam Chair.

Senator Faulkner —That is always a viable tactic at estimates committee to end with an editorial comment, so congratulations on that. I have taken the substantive question you have on notice to see if there is any information that can be provided to you. But at the end of the day the political point that you made—this is really not a forum for that but we will assist you in trying to get an answer to the substantive question.

Senator CORMANN —This is the forum, because the next COAG meeting will deal with the national health reform agenda moving forward. There is a proposition on the table put as a pre-election commitment that if certain targets have not been met by the middle of next year—so just over six months after the next COAG meeting—then the Commonwealth might well put to the Australian people taking over the running of state public hospitals. What I am asking you and what I have not received an answer to is: what are those targets? How will you know whether the states and territories have failed to get their act together in terms of the running of state public hospitals? What I am noting is that you are giving them less than six months time to actually meet the performance targets which to date have not been defined. I guess I am a bit surprised that that is the situation we are in.

Senator Faulkner —We have answered what questions you have asked that we are able to answer today. We have taken another substantive question on notice for you. You understand the constraints that operate here. I merely make the point to you that given time constraints as well we probably have not got a great deal of time to get involved in too much political argy bargy about this. I note your editorial comment and I say in response the substantive issue will come back to you if we can provide any further information.

Senator CORMANN —Thanks, Madam Chair.

Senator BOSWELL —The government has been approached by prominent Victorian church leaders, including the Archbishop of Melbourne, with concerns that the Victorian Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008 breaches the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Australia is a signatory. The leaders wrote to the Prime Minister asking that he act on the legal advice provided by former Federal Court justice Mr Neil Young QC and by human rights barrister Mr Peter Willis. Has there been a formal response from the Prime Minister to these church leaders?

Senator Faulkner —Senator, I do not know—

Senator BOSWELL —Well the question was not asked to you. It was asked to the officials—

Senator Faulkner —No, but it is directed through me—I assume the usual courtesy—so I am now checking for you. I am indicating to you that I do not know. I will now establish if any of the officials are able to assist you. Senator, I am sorry, officials do not know so we will need to check that for you and take that on notice.

Senator BOSWELL —I will ask a series of questions and you can take them on notice. Did the department consider the legal advice provided by Mr Neil Young and Mr Peter Willis that found the Victorian bill was inconsistent with the human rights obligations set out in the ICCPR on this issue of conscientious objectors? You cannot answer that one?

Senator Faulkner —I suspect you are going to find, given the officials did not have any knowledge of the primary question you asked that it is going to be difficult to answer them.

Senator BOSWELL —I will just put two other questions.

Senator Faulkner —Yes, sure.

Senator BOSWELL —Has the department prepared or sought legal advice on this issue; and, if so, will the department release this advice? Has the Prime Minister’s office taken steps to ensure that the Victorian legislation is consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?

Senator Faulkner —Thank you, Senator. All we can do in this circumstance, because none of the officials nor I have knowledge of this, is take them on notice and provide responses.

CHAIR —Senator Boyce, can I just remind senators that we will be breaking shortly for afternoon tea.

Senator BOYCE —This is a couple of questions and I suspect I may not have much more success than Senator Boswell but I do not know where else to ask these questions. Senator Faulkner, I am sure that, like me, you receive quite a lot of correspondence from people about cult activity, with families being split apart by it and whatever—

Senator Faulkner —Some, but I would not have said a lot, to be honest.

Senator BOYCE —Perhaps Queensland is more active in this area than other places.

Senator Faulkner —Perhaps.

Senator BOYCE —In that there is nowhere that I can see where this issue could be handled: is PM&C the correct area to be inquiring about what the government is doing about cult activities or what monitoring they have of it?

Senator Faulkner —One thing I have always found with PM&C is that, if you take an issue to them, they will find the right place to go, but whether they are the right place is a very different issue. I do not know if Mr Mrdak can help us there.

Mr Mrdak —I am not familiar with representations or issues being raised in our portfolio but, if I can, I will take that on notice and come back to you about which portfolio within the Commonwealth it should be raised. It may well sit in the Attorney-General department. I will take that on notice and come back to you.

Senator BOYCE —I ask it here rather than in that context because often the issues are not legal issues—they are issues of how you legislate to stop people freely participating in something that they then find abhorrent and lose their family contacts over. The problem is of course that, whilst people would like legal action taken about this, there is often no way we can. Certainly it is a very complex issue. It is very hard to see how you would legislate without affecting human rights. But I consistently have inquiries brought to me; some were covered on Four Corners—for example, the Brisbane Christian Fellowship and the issues suffered by people who were formerly members of that group. So how can we look at these issues?

Mr Mrdak —In the first instance, I will endeavour, during the break for afternoon tea, to identify which area of the Commonwealth deals with these issues more regularly and try to get you that answer quickly. Subsequent to that, on notice, I will try to give you a more detailed answer in relation to how these questions are being dealt with. But we do not have the knowledge of that here, I am sorry.

Senator BOYCE —That is all right. Thank you.

CHAIR —Are there any further general questions?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Can I just ask some questions, Mr Mrdak, in relation to other companies. At the last estimates hearings I think you indicated that there would be some sort of evaluation undertaken in relation to 2020 contracts, both—if I understood it correctly—the direct source contracts and the tendered contracts. Indeed, in answer to question PM95, you actually indicated that PM&C had commissioned an external firm to undertake a compliance audit of the Australia 2020 Summit procurements, which we anticipate at the end of the 2007-08 financial year, and indicating that an external legal provider was engaged to provide services but that their role did not include a review of individual contracts or tenders. Where are we at with that?

Mr Mrdak —Following that estimates hearing, we initiated—through the department’s audit committee, which I chair—an internal audit review of all of our 2020 contracts. That was undertaken by Acumen Alliance, our internal audit contractor—now renamed Oakton, following some recent corporate restructuring. That report was received in June this year and has been provided to the audit committee. That examination identified a number of issues with some of our 2020 contracts. In particular, it identified some breaches of the FMA regulations in relation to the operation of reg 9 approvals. This is a statutory approval process that was undertaken where officers had not fully complied with the FMA regulations. Those breaches of the FMA have been reported in our required FMA reporting certificate which the secretary signed along with our annual financial statements this year. So there were breaches of the FMA regulations, which we have identified, and corrective action has been taken to ensure those breaches are not repeated in relation to future contracts. Additionally, the auditors recommended a number of measures in relation to improved systems and advice to our officers on how they undertake procurement, particularly in relation to FMA obligations. They also identified a number of areas for improvement in terms of how we determine, pro forma, advice for our officers in relation to procurement. So the end result is that all of that has been acted upon via our audit committee, and we are putting in place improved processes for our procurement operations inside the department.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Are we going to get a copy of this?

Mr Mrdak —I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Thank you. Given the extent to which this issue has been canvassed—and not only in relation to CMAX; clearly there have been other discrepancies—I think it would be appropriate if the report could be tabled to this committee.

Mr Mrdak —Certainly; I will take that on notice. Subject to the normal clearance processes, including with our internal auditors and the audit committee, I do not see a reason why we would not provide the report to the committee. As I said, the report did not find issues per se with the way in which we had undertaken various forms of procurement in terms of the choice of procurement methodology, but did find that there were a number of instances where we had not fully complied with the FMA regulations in relation to a number of contracts.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Did that include, for example, this: in the answers to questions on notice you provided details in relation to the tendered contracts. In relation to the direct source contracts—and that was PM158D—there is a list that was provided to me. You might, if you can, just get that list up.

Mr Mrdak —Yes, certainly. This is PM120.


Mr Mrdak —Yes, I have got that.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I noticed that there were certain contracts—for example, with Zoo Communications—and I assume that, as part of that audit, you went through all the direct source contracts that were engaged and that you looked at whether there had been discrepancies in relation to any of those.

Mr Mrdak —That is correct. The auditors looked at the direct source contracts, those which went to select tender and also those which went to broader tender. So all categories of contracts for 2020 were looked at, and the auditor found 10 instances in relation to which reg 9 approval was not obtained for the full authorisation. As you would be aware, under the FMA regulations there is required to be an FMA reg 9 approval issued by the delegate prior to the entering of the contract. In a number of instances that did not take place. Officers relied on what is called a reg 12 approval, believing that that was sufficient. The auditor has identified that that was incorrect action on our part—has not identified issues with the procurement itself, but certainly issues in relation to the documentation: the selection of firms under reg 9 and reg 12.

CHAIR —We can continue this after our break. We will resume at four o’clock.

Proceedings suspended from 3.46 pm to 4.03 pm

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr Mrdak, I notice that those companies—the companies like Zeepod Productions—did the design work for logo changes. Could you take on notice whether they were on the previous government’s list or they have just now become a new provider?

Mr Mrdak —I will check that.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —You can take all this on notice, if you like.

Mr Mrdak —Ta.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I noticed the main person in that company is Stephanie Werrett, who has some interesting connections with my favourite organisation, the ABC. So I am very interested to know about that—

Senator CAMERON —The AVCC?

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Senator Cameron, you will know about my interest in the ABC. The other company I am particularly interested in is Zoo Communications, which of course did graphic design work—a company owned by Mr Singleton. Again, I would be interested to know whether they are one of the new providers or whether they have been on the list for some time.

Mr Mrdak —In relation to Zeepod, I will take that on notice. The department has a standing offer, which I understand runs until 2010, with ZOO Communications. It is in place for three years; it was put in place last year.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I have some questions in relation to contracts. One was published on 20 June. You might like to take this on notice. It was with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and it was in the national planning services category. It is a contract for a year, June 2008 to June 2009, for $50,000. Again, it is by direct procurement but the supplier’s details are a mystery—Geoff Mulgan. He was director of the UK Prime Minister’s strategy unit. Given Mr Mulgan’s history, I am interested in the nature of the services that he has been engaged to provide in Australia which are described as planning and support services?

Mr Mrdak —I can provide some information now.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Thank you.

Mr Mrdak —You are correct. Mr Mulgan was contracted by the department in June this year, under essentially a labour hire contract. He has been engaged to provide two categories of work for us. The first is to provide advice on the establishment of the Strategy and Delivery Division, which commenced on 1 July. That reflects, as you say, the ultimate United Kingdom’s development and strategy unit for former Prime Minister Blair. He provided advice—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Is this a quaint term for spin? I am trying to understand precisely what it is that he is going to do here.

Mr Mrdak —He was engaged to provide us with some advice on how we should structure and establish the strategy division.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —This is a new division?

Mr Mrdak —It is a new division which was announced in the budget by the government. Its resources have been provided to the department to establish a strategy division, which is to look at longer-term strategic issues for the government and also to look at implementation issues in relation to government initiatives. That unit commenced formally on 1 July. Mr Mulgan was engaged in June to provide advice both in terms of the establishment of that unit and how it should operate—the structure and the like—and in terms of some of the key issues in the government’s response to the 2020 Summit.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Do you mean that big document that was published by Professor Glyn Davis—the outcome of the 2020 Summit?

Mr Mrdak —The final report of the summit was published by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on 31 May and the government has undertaken to respond to that document by the end of this year. Mr Mulgan is providing advice in relation to that response. As I said, most of his work has been around the establishment of the Strategy and Delivery Division.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —You mean strategic beyond a 24-hour media cycle! Why was it a direct-source contract?

Mr Mrdak —Mr Mulgan is in Australia as the Adelaide Thinker in Residence in 2008 and his availability in Australia for periods enabled us to access his expert skills. So we took advantage of him being in Australia for periods to actually draw on his expertise and knowledge. Hence, we put in place a direct-service agreement with him for that.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Has he produced anything since he started?

Mr Mrdak —He has provided advice to us in the department. He has met on a number of occasions with senior departmental officers and provided advice to us in relation to the establishment of the division.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Are you able to provide us with further details of that?

Mr Mrdak —If there is anything further I can add to that, I certainly will.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —We might look to another direct source contract. This one was published dated 29 May for a short contract period. It was an organisation for consultancy services. The supplier is HBA Consulting and the founder and I think the principal of that is Des Heaney, who I understand is an industrial relations consultant and a former secretary of the Australian Theatrical Amusement Employees Association and certainly also has links with other union organisations. Could you explain to me again the need for a direct source contract and what are the specific terms of this? What is it that he is going to do?

Mr Mrdak —That work has been concluded. Mr Heaney and his firm, HBA, were engaged for some additional work. They were contracted last year by the department to assist in the preparation of the department’s collective agreement and they provided specialist industrial relations advice in relation to that and assisted the department’s negotiation with its staff on the collective agreement last year. It was put in place in September 2007. I engaged that firm subsequently this year because we were looking at the issue of how we implement the government’s employment framework, particularly in relation to the large number of Australian workplace agreements which were in place in the department. We were in a rather unique situation this year that all of our Australian workplace agreements expired on a single day, 30 September. We felt that we had to quite urgently get advice and to structure a process in accordance with the government’s employment framework to transition our staff off AWAs onto either the collective agreement or, in relation to SES staff, onto the Public Service Act section 20.4 determinations. So that firm provided advice to me and the executive in relation to the options available under the existing workplace arrangements to start the process of work in relation to our AWA transition. I went for direct source, first, because they had experience of the industrial relations environment in our department; they had worked on our collective agreement previously so had a good knowledge of our collective agreement; and, secondly, we needed some advice fairly urgently earlier this year in May-June which would enable us to start the transition quickly from our AWAs onto the collective agreement.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Is his advice available?

Mr Mrdak —He provided advice to us in relation to options, yes.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I would be interested to see that.

Mr Mrdak —I will take that on notice.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —On the last occasion we discussed the issue of the rather unusual arrangements that had been put into place for the reimbursement by the Prime Minister of the services of the assistant at the Lodge, otherwise known as the nanny. You explained to us this rather complicated process whereby the Prime Minister reimbursed a portion, if I understood correctly, of about 40 per cent and any other additional amount. We were interrupted by other things happening, so I do not think that the question that I actually asked was picked up on notice. I refer you to pages 50-51 of the estimates transcript on the last occasion. I was asking about the cost of the time and effort that you as the deputy secretary had to go through to give effect to this unusual arrangement. I think you had just completed explaining to Senator Minchin the framework of what was going to occur. I was really trying to get to the bottom of how much this actually costs per month, if I understood correctly, or per whatever the period is that this reimbursement occurs.

Mr Mrdak —In terms of costs of departmental resources.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Yes. It must be quite expensive for you as the departmental secretary to go through this process on a monthly or bimonthly basis or however regularly it does occur. I mean, a deputy secretary salary would not be cheap.

Mr Mrdak —I would not want to get into that argument! But I am very fortunate in being assisted by some very good people in our official establishments area who do this analysis work for me. I can certainly take it on notice.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Could you go back to that exchange, please, and take on notice the actual cost that it takes on a monthly or bimonthly basis for this calculation to take place and for the reimbursement to occur.

Mr Mrdak —It would not be a large amount of resourcing in the sense that we have established a system. As I indicated, the Prime Minister announced earlier in the year that he reimburses 60 per cent of the salary costs, including on-costs and the like, and 100 per cent of any overtime or additional allowances. We work from the time sheets that are submitted and then calculate the amount of payment that is required to be reimbursed. I will take that on notice, but it is not a significant additional cost for the officers in our official establishment’s area.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I assume that the nanny is still employed at the Lodge—

Mr Mrdak —Household assistance.

Senator Faulkner —There is no such person—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —who undertakes child-minding duties.

Mr Mrdak —She undertakes a range of household duties.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —She is still employed at the Lodge. That is the point—

Senator Faulkner —She is a household assistant, which you know well.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —I will move on. I think we have covered the issues relating to overseas trips. Could you tell me about the community cabinet? On the last occasion we looked at the cost of community cabinets, and we focused on the cost of the Penrith meeting in particular. Could you advise me whether there are requirements for provision of identification? In other words, what is the process of registration for these community cabinets? I looked at some of these costs and I thought they were actually quite high, considering there was an inference that, because some of the venues were being held at state schools or in halls, they were perhaps not as expensive to hire as one would have otherwise thought. Could you advise me on that, because it seems that some sort of procedure occurs? I have been informed that you actually have to produce ID and go through quite a process to be able to attend. Is it the case that you have to submit your questions beforehand? Please enlighten me.

Dr Southern —When we open each community cabinet meeting for registrations, we ask people either to call us on a 1800 number or to register online.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —So you call for expressions of interest—for want of a better expression—through the media?

Dr Southern —Yes, from people who want to attend the community cabinet meeting.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —You put a notice in the paper. For example, in Penrith, you put a notice in the local Penrith newspaper.

Dr Southern —Yes. At that time we ask for their name and address and then register them as wanting to attend. We ask members of the public who also wish to have a one-on-one meeting with an individual minister what issues they would like to raise with that minister. This is so that the ministers can be briefed beforehand and they at least know the issues that they will be asked to cover. When people arrive on the day of the community cabinet meeting we ask them if they have pre-registered. We have lists of people who have pre-registered and we check their names against those lists. We ask to see their photo ID, and then they proceed through to the meeting. A number of people usually turn up on spec. They have not pre-registered with us. If we have room at the venue, we ask those people to provide us with details such as their name and address. We wait and make sure that the venue is not full and then, towards the end of the registration, if there is room in the venue we allow those people to enter as well.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —As part of that registration process, do you do any security checks or anything like that?

Dr Southern —We work with the Protective Security Coordination Centre of the Commonwealth government and also with the local state police on security issues for community cabinet meetings.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —How do you deal with the people who turn up on spec?

Dr Southern —We always have a local police presence at community cabinet meetings. We work with them on the day to ensure that people who are turning up are able to attend. There is usually a little bit of time to be set aside for those people to be considered. There have never been any problems.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Do you have set numbers per meeting or does that depend on the venue?

Dr Southern —It depends on the venue. We know how many people the venue can take. When we are taking the pre-registrations, we have on occasion had to close registration early because we have effectively filled up the venue. We know that on the day there will be a proportion of people who will not turn up, but it is usually not very high and so we have a sense of how many people we might be able to allow in on the day.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —As part of that pre-registration process, is there any form of vetting? For example, do you check whether they have party affiliations or anything like that?

Dr Southern —No.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Thank you.

Senator BOYCE —How many people have failed the security check?

Dr Southern —Nobody.

CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, did you have any more general questions?

Senator RONALDSON —I think Senator Trood had a very quick question, and I am happy to come in after him.

CHAIR —As long as they are in general, and then we will go to the outputs.

Senator TROOD —I heard Senator Fierravanti-Wells asking questions about community cabinets. May I ask some questions about that now or do you want to deal with those at another time?

CHAIR —No. Go ahead, Senator Trood.

Senator TROOD —This question has been asked and of course I will defer to earlier questions, but I gather there have been seven community cabinets to date.

Senator Faulkner —That is correct.

Senator TROOD —I wonder whether or not the department could provide the cost of those cabinet meetings to date. I was told in another Senate estimates committee this morning that the costs of community cabinets are actually being borne by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Dr Southern —We bear the direct costs of holding the meetings—venue and catering costs and what have you. We also bear the costs of travel for our own staff, and we bear the cost of the small secretariat which supports the community cabinet meetings. We do not bear the costs of officials from other departments attending or the costs of ministers who attend community cabinet.

Senator TROOD —Insofar as there are costs for ministers, they borne either personally out of their own entitlements or by their departments. Is that correct?

Dr Southern —As I understand it, the travel costs of ministers are picked up by the Department of Finance and Deregulation. The costs of officials from other departments who attend community cabinet are picked up by the relevant department.

Senator TROOD —Do you have the costs that PM&C have borne so far in relation to these cabinets?

—Yes, we do. I can read them out for each of the seven meetings that we have had. The cost of the meeting in Canning Vale in January was $78,012; Narangba in Queensland was $64,892; and Penrith was $33,377. I just make the point here that we provided you with an answer to question on notice where we gave the figure as $35,000 and a few extra dollars. That was the cost that we had at the time. It has actually come down a little in that time to $33,377. The meeting in Mackay cost $54,170; Yirrkala, $74,895; and Adelaide, $45,608. We do not as yet have the final figures for the most recent meeting in Newcastle. We pretty much have the final costs in for some of the later meetings, but they may vary slightly as we get in the final invoices.

Senator TROOD —There is a meeting in Launceston next month. Is that right?

Dr Southern —Yes, that is correct.

Senator TROOD —Are there other meetings planned for the rest of the financial year?

Dr Southern —Yes, there are others planned.

Senator TROOD —How many others are planned?

Dr Southern —For each year, we plan on having about one a month. That would be the basis on which we are planning with the secretariat, but decisions on the final venues for each of those are a matter for the ministers to make.

Senator TROOD —There is quite a differential in the costs of these meetings. Does that reflect largely travel costs?

Dr Southern —It is primarily travel costs, yes.

Senator Faulkner —You can imagine, for example, that Yirrkala is a very different venue for convening a community cabinet meeting than Penrith, which is less than half that cost. I am sure you can appreciate the significance of that.

Senator TROOD —Yes, I can appreciate that. I am grateful for that clarification. In relation to the forthcoming meeting in Launceston, can you provide any information about its costs to date?

Dr Southern —I would have to take that on notice. I do not have anything with me.

Senator TROOD —Perhaps if you could do that. I am interested in that. I gather it is the practice to advertise these meetings ahead of time in the local media. Is that correct?

Dr Southern —Yes. That has occurred on this occasion. In fact, registrations for Launceston opened this morning.

Senator TROOD —Is it the practice to provide advertisements in the local newspaper or something of that character?

Dr Southern —Yes, that is correct.

Senator TROOD —Do you have a breakdown of the costs involved in relation to that advertising?

Dr Southern —For Launceston?

Senator TROOD —In relation to all of the venues.

Dr Southern —Yes, I do. I do not have the Launceston costs with me, but I do have the breakdown for the meetings to date.

Senator TROOD —You have given me the aggregate figures in relation to all of these. I am sure you would need to do this on notice, but perhaps you could provide me with a breakdown of the costs in relation to each of the community cabinets—travel, accommodation, advertising et cetera.

Dr Southern —Yes.

Senator TROOD —And any costs that have been borne to date with regard to the Launceston meeting.

Dr Southern —Yes, will do.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Following on from that, looking at the venue costs, I assume at Penrith that the school billed you for usage of the facility. Is that the case?

Dr Southern —I believe so. Just let me go back to our answer to that question.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —No, you have just set out ‘venue costs’ at $2,199.

Dr Southern —I would have to confirm that, but I am fairly confident that with each of the schools that we have used there have been costs associated with cleaning contracts and those sorts of things.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —One other set of questions that I wanted to ask is in relation to your answer to me on PM58: ‘Guest list and costs for all official functions in 2008’. I notice that you provided me with details in relation to seven functions ranging from 6 January to 18 April. You did not provide me with details in relation to the New Year’s Eve function. Can you explain why New Year’s was left off? I did say ‘from the beginning of 2008’. It seems a bit cute to leave out New Year’s Eve.

Mr Mrdak —My understanding—I will check—is that that was not an official function in the same category. If you go back to the definition that the minister provided, official functions are generally those with which the ceremonial and hospitality area of our department is involved in terms of organisation. It reflects receptions for heads of state or those types of categories. I do not believe that the New Year’s Eve function fell into that category.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —So it was a private function.

Mr Mrdak —It was a private function.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —In that case, how many private functions have been held at either the Lodge or Kirribilli since 24 November 2007.

Mr Mrdak —It has been longstanding practice that details of private functions are not provided individually.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —The previous government was criticised heavily because we did not provide details. So now we are providing some details but not all details.

Senator Faulkner —I made clear that there would be a change of practice, which has been honoured—previously, none of this information was made public. You would appreciate that for some reason or another the former Howard government seemed to play its cards very close to its chest on this. No details of costs or guest lists in relation to official functions, private functions—any sort of function—were made available. In the interests of transparency what the current government has done, as I indicated, is undertaken to provide this information in relation to all official functions. That obviously does not go to private dinners and things like that, as I think you would accept. It is a very different approach to the one that was taken by the previous government. But you have raised with me the New Year’s Eve function. Whether or not it fits the definition of being in 2008, I do not know, but one thing I do know is that it was a private function and Mr Rudd and Ms Rein met all the additional costs of that particular function.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, if you are claiming openness and transparency, why would you differentiate between a public function and a private function?

Senator Faulkner —So every private dinner, family dinner or whatever, that is held in the Lodge or Kirribilli House we have got to provide details about.

Senator RONALDSON —This is a big New Year’s Eve bash. So the openness and transparency gets covered off if the current occupants decide to pay the cost. That absolves any openness and transparency questions, does it?

Senator Faulkner —So you were dissatisfied, were you, with the way that Mr Howard dealt with this for the entire period of his prime ministership?

Senator RONALDSON —Look, if you want to play the poacher and the gamekeeper, that is fine, Minister. You are the one who argues that you have changed the rules. You have not changed the rules at all.

Senator Faulkner —We did. But you are now condemning the way Mr Howard approached this, because for every single function—official, private or any other categorisation—the costs were never made public, the guest lists were never made public. You are now condemning Mr Howard—

Senator RONALDSON —Attack is the best form of defence.

CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson—

Senator Faulkner —But what I am saying is that for every official function we will make public guest list and costs. That is very different to what Mr Howard did. It is grossly hypocritical to start bagging what your own government did less than a year ago when it was in office, for the whole period of the time it was in office, 11½ years. You can’t have it both ways.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, I appreciate you are getting tired. It is now half past four, but there is no reason to behave like that.

Senator Faulkner —I am not getting tired; I had been tired all day.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —But you are irritable.

Senator Faulkner —And I am never irritable; you know that.

Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, as I was saying, Minister, you talk about openness and transparency, but what you are putting to this committee and the community is that if the Prime Minister pays for the cost he can have whoever he likes at Kirribilli without any accountability to the community at all. That is what you are saying.

Senator Faulkner —What I am saying to you is that for each and every official function held at the official establishments—

Senator RONALDSON —What about the private functions?

Senator Faulkner —this government will front up with guest lists and costs. That stands in stark contrast to the practice under Mr Howard, whose government you were a member of, who stumped up with the costs and the guest list of no function held at any time at either official establishment for the entire period of Mr Howard’s prime ministership. So please do not come in here—

Senator RONALDSON —You have made your point.

Senator Faulkner —I have made the point, and hence I am saying that you really are being quite hypocritical if you are suggesting there should be even more efforts made by the current government—

Senator RONALDSON —You are being hypocritical. We could talk over each other for the next hour—

Senator Faulkner —Don’t be ridiculous.

Senator RONALDSON —We will get to dinner and I suppose we can talk over each other after that.

Senator Faulkner —You can do what you like.

Senator RONALDSON —You are the one who went to the election with openness and transparency and, like so many other things with the Rudd government, when push comes to shove and you are put to the test, you just don’t cut the mustard.

Senator Faulkner —That is garbage.

Senator RONALDSON —The reality is that if you were serious about openness and transparency it would not matter whether it was a private function or a public function at Kirribilli, you would actually publish the list of those who were there.

Senator Faulkner —We are making available and publishing the lists of all those who attend official functions at both Kirribilli House and the Lodge. This has not happened in 11½ years of your government—

Senator RONALDSON —Yeah, yeah, we have done that.

Senator Faulkner —We are making available the costs of those functions. That did not happen in the 11½ years of your government when in office. It stands in very stark contrast to what the Howard government did, and it is preposterous for you to suggest that this is not a massive step forward in terms of openness and transparency—

Senator RONALDSON —Why don’t you go the whole hog, then?

Senator Faulkner —I do not know how you could have the gall to sit there and say that, given your own record. How could you possibly say it?

Senator RONALDSON —If it is a step forward, why don’t you go the whole hog?

Senator FAULKNER —Why didn’t you get up in the period when you were in office and make these grand statements and asked Mr Howard to do what the Rudd government has done in relation to these official functions? Why didn’t you do that? If you think it is such a good idea now, why didn’t you think it was such a good idea then? You were happy for it all to be covered up—

Senator RONALDSON —Openness and transparency depends on what the circumstances are.

Senator Faulkner —Every single function, all costs covered up, year in year out for 11½ years. That is exactly what you did.

Senator RONALDSON —The openness and transparency claims are just a massive joke. Now, I have a question in relation to coordination comments.

CHAIR —Can I just remind the committee members, with their enthusiasm, that Hansard are trying to record proceedings. If we continue to speak over the top of ministers or each other, it makes their job very difficult.

Senator Faulkner —I am very pleased that you have counselled Senator Ronaldson on that, Chair. I appreciate it.

CHAIR —Senator Ronaldson, you have the call.

Senator RONALDSON —We could start again, if Hansard were having trouble.

CHAIR —If you promise to go one at a time.

Senator RONALDSON —Before you all get started on this, it would be very silly if we got involved in this discussion about openness and transparency and lack of it again. I would like to turn back to the coordination comments. Mr Mrdak, you talked this morning about the longstanding tradition—and I will just very quickly go through section 5.4 of the PM&C Cabinet Handbook, fifth edition, March 2004:

The minimum requirement is that interested departments be given the opportunity to provide a ‘co-ordination comment’ on the submission after it has been approved by the sponsoring minister. That ‘coordination comment’ will then be included in the submission as an attachment. Two working days are to be allowed for the provision of co-ordination comments.

After a substantial grilling from Senator Fifield this morning, you indicated that it was suspended because of the Fuelwatch affair and that there was now a sort of de facto, under-the-table gathering of coordination comments. When will that investigation be finalised, and when will you return to longstanding good governance practice?

Mr Mrdak —As I outlined earlier, we have now concluded the two investigatory processes. The secretary made a public comment on the AFP investigation on 29 August. Our own internal review was also completed in July-August. We are now implementing a range of recommendations by both the AFP and our own internal processes. I am hopeful that we will complete the implementation of those additional security measures in the next week or so, which will enable us to recommence the PM&C’s provision of written coordination comments in the near future. As I answered previously, that has not impacted on other agencies’ provision of coordination comments or, in my view, the provision of advice to ministers by PM&C.

Senator RONALDSON —Do you accept that these coordination comments underpin proper advice to government?

Mr Mrdak —The coordination process is certainly, in my view, very important to the advice that goes to cabinet. However, as I indicated earlier to Senator Fifield, my view is that that process has not in any way been undermined or affected by this change while we ensured that our security processes were adequate.

Senator RONALDSON —So what coordination comments were provided on the Rudd government’s recently released financial stimulus package?

Senator Faulkner —Are you now asking for Mr Mrdak to provide detail of coordination comments to the committee? You know that that cannot and will not be done.

Senator RONALDSON —Why?

Senator Faulkner —There is no occasion in the history of the establishment of the Senate estimates committees when any coordination comments in relation to any cabinet submissions have been provided to an estimates committee.

Senator RONALDSON —I did not ask what they were; I asked whether they were given and, if so, which departments gave coordination comments, even under this convoluted new process, as input into the recently announced financial stimulus package.

Senator Faulkner —I have made clear what is longstanding practice, which you are well aware of.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, normally those coordination comments would be there anyway, so I would not have to ask the question, but you have changed the system as a gross overreaction to someone leaking in relation to Fuelwatch. You have effectively taken away, I think, a coordination comment system that underpins appropriate advice. You have not replaced it. You have dragged it out, and now you will not even tell me what departments had input into this financial stimulus package.

Senator Faulkner —Mr Mrdak and I have previously given evidence at this estimates hearing that the evidence that has been provided to you in relation to a change in approach on coordination comments relates to coordination comments from only one agency, which is the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator RONALDSON —Mr Mrdak, did any departments have input into the financial stimulus package, and were those coordinated comments, whether they were to you directly or in any other manner?

Mr Mrdak —All I can indicate is that central agencies provided advice to government, which has been publicly stated by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance and Deregulation—that senior officials from the Treasury, the Department of Finance and Deregulation and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet provided advice in relation to those matters.

Senator RONALDSON —Any other departments?

Mr Mrdak —Principally those three departments. Also, in relation to some of those elements of the package, there are other departments involved in providing advice, such as in relation to the provision of some of the additional pension payments and the like.

Senator RONALDSON —Will you take this on notice, Minister. Which departments actually had input into this financial stimulus package? I am interested to know, for example, whether Minister Plibersek’s department in relation to housing had any input to this. Why would you be pleading a change of system when it is quite clear that this is probably the most serious public policy decision that has been made for some period of time? And you are prevaricating about which departments actually had some input. I thought you would be bragging about the fact that a huge range of departments had input into this, rather than prevaricating and trying to avoid what is a very serious question.

Senator Faulkner —I am happy to take the question on notice, but I have indicated, Chair, to Senator Ronaldson that the change of approach that has been outlined in detail and earlier, while Senator Ronaldson was outside the room, in answer to questions—

Senator RONALDSON —I heard the comments, thanks.

Senator Faulkner —is a change that relates only to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I stress that with you again, Senator. The changed arrangements relate to just the one agency.

Senator RONALDSON —Minister, your government will be judged by its actions and not by the spin in substance that you seem to be able to put on virtually any situation.

Senator Faulkner —I am very, very happy for the government to be judged by its actions—very, very happy.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS —On a point of order, Chair: are there questions happening here or commentary? Seriously, we have been through this period of questioning once already. Now we have a second round of the same questions and commentary.

CHAIR —Are there any further questions on the general area, Senator Ronaldson?

Senator RONALDSON —No, not in relation to the general matters, thank you very much, Chair.

[4.42 pm]

CHAIR —As there are no further questions on the general area, we will go to outcome group 1. Senator Bob Brown, I understand you have some questions.

Senator BOB BROWN —First, I just want to ask about the 2020 conference.

Senator Faulkner —Senator, we will just ask relevant officers to come to the table for output group 1.

Senator BOB BROWN —Thank you very much. Can you tell me what role Ms Linda Hornsey took in that conference?

Mr Mrdak —Ms Hornsey was appointed as the project director. She was the senior executive inside the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet responsible for the organisation and the administration of the summit.

Senator BOB BROWN —How was she appointed?

Mr Mrdak —She was appointed under a direct contract with the department to provide the summit. She was engaged under a short-term agreement, which from memory ran from around 8 February right through till the end of April this year, to organise and administer the development of the summit.

Senator BOB BROWN —Was the position advertised?

Mr Mrdak —No, it was not.

Senator BOB BROWN —Why not?

Mr Mrdak —Ms Hornsey was identified by the department as someone who was available and would be able to provide the senior management skills required. I understand that the judgement was made because of her experience with a similar process in Tasmania—which I think was Tasmania Together, from memory, or a similar title.

CHAIR —That is correct.

Mr Mrdak —She had been involved in organising a similar consultative process around that document and that work for the Tasmanian government. She was contacted, and the department engaged her to be the project director because of her senior experience working with the Tasmanian government.

Senator BOB BROWN —Who recommended her?

Mr Mrdak —I indicated to this Senate committee at the hearings in May that Ms Hornsey contacted the government in relation to her availability and the department contacted her and had discussions with her in relation to her availability, and the decision to engage her was made by the department.

Senator BOB BROWN —How much was she paid for this contract?

Mr Mrdak —I will just check. We provided advice to the committee, and I will just get that in front of me: the total contract amount for Ms Hornsey was $124,292.15. That included reimbursement for a number of expenses and provided for travel, accommodation, out-of-pocket expenses and her professional fees.

Senator BOB BROWN —What was the period from her engagement to the end of the contract?

Mr Mrdak —I will just check. The period of her engagement was from 8 February to 2 May this year.

Senator BOB BROWN —So basically a three-month appointment. Did she come with references?

Mr Mrdak —She was well known to senior officers in the department because of her long involvement with the Commonwealth in relation to COAG matters and her work as a senior officer in relation to inter-government matters. So she was well known to senior officers of the Commonwealth.

Senator BOB BROWN —But she made the first approach?

Mr Mrdak —That is my understanding. She indicated to the Australian government that she would be available and interested in assisting, and that was then followed up by the department.

Senator BOB BROWN —Thank you. The second question relates to that proposed cabinet and community meeting in Launceston. Will cabinet be visiting the proposed pulp mill site in the Tamar Valley?

Senator Faulkner —Not to my knowledge, Senator, but whether individual cabinet members do, I do not know. You would appreciate that when you have a community cabinet meeting cabinet ministers build around the meetings a schedule of appointments, so I cannot be categorical about this. There are no plans for the cabinet en masse to visit, if that is what you are asking—none that I am aware of.

Senator BOB BROWN —I presume that cabinet ministers are open to community invitation in that case if they are visiting and may visit—

Senator Faulkner —Cabinet ministers are always open to community invitations. I can assure you—

Senator BOB BROWN —Not always receptive though.

Senator Faulkner —That is true. You are not always able to accept all invitations that are received. But I can say to you as a cabinet minister that I receive a great number—I am sure other senators do too—of invitations. For example, most of the invitations one receives in a sittings week or a Senate estimates week you have to decline. You would have these same experiences yourself. You know what it is like. Of course you cannot always attend all the things you would like to attend, and we all have to say no from time to time. That is not unique to cabinet ministers because I am sure you have had the same experience yourself.

Senator BOB BROWN —I wanted to ask about the regional forest agreement which, as you will know, is an agreement signed originally by Prime Minister Howard and then Premier Rundle in November 1997, and then it was altered in February of last year by an amendment signed by Prime Minister Howard and then Premier Lennon. It concerns the matter of one of the most endangered species of birds in Australia, the swift parrot, currently nesting in Tasmania—it flies to the mainland in winter and spends over winter around here and from Toowoomba through to Adelaide. It crosses Bass Strait and nests only in coastal areas of Tasmania and feeds primarily on blue gum and black gum blossoms. It depends on where they are as to where it nests and it changes its siting site. But the parrot is down to 1,000 breeding pairs from much bigger numbers. Recent surveys on the mainland in winter indicate that there has been a 23 per cent slump just this decade in the numbers of this bird which is facing extinction. I am asking these questions because this agreement is one signed between the Prime Minister and the Premier and is only amenable to alteration at this end by the Prime Minister and nobody else, as it was altered at the start of last year by the then Prime Minister and the then Premier of Tasmania.

The intention at the moment is to continue logging in quite extensive areas where this bird nests in south-east Tasmania, although a temporary halt has been made at one coop in the Wielangta Forest, which was described in a Federal Court action which I took against Forestry Tasmania as one of the richest nesting sites that the scientists knew of. The intention by Forestry Tasmania, now publicly announced, is to halt logging while the bird nests and then to log the forest after they have left so that they will never go back to that forest and nest again. That is the elimination of that nursery. This is one of the most endangered species that there is in Australia. Clause 68 of the regional forest agreement says that ‘the Commonwealth and Tasmania agree that the application of management strategies and management prescriptions developed under Tasmania’s forestry management systems protect rare and threatened fauna.’ Is there a management regime in place for the swift parrot under this provision at the moment?

Dr Dickson —I can give you some bare information that we understand here, but the main carriage of this issue, as you know, is the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. We understand there is a recovery plan that went from 2001-05 that is in place.

Senator BOB BROWN —That is true.

Dr Dickson —That is still in place and it is currently being revised. The details of what is being taken into account in that revision is something to ask the other department.

Senator BOB BROWN —But if I can just ask because the Prime Minister has ultimate authority here: if that plan went from 2001-05 and this is an endangered species, why is there no new plan in place?

Dr Dickson —I think that is a question you will have to direct to the department but, as far as I understand it, legally those plans are still in force until they are replaced by another plan.

Senator BOB BROWN —But those plans that are in force, as I said earlier, saw a quite catastrophic drop in the population of this species by 23 per cent. Under the agreement the provision states that a management plan was meant to raise the status from endangered to just vulnerable when in fact it has gone in the other direction. Is that a satisfactory position as far as the government is concerned?

Dr Dickson —As I said, you would really have to ask the department for the details of the factors that are being considered in revising the plan. I do not know the details of that. It is not something that PM&C gets involved in.

Senator BOB BROWN —Has the Prime Minister requested any information about the status of this particular Australian endangered species?

Dr Dickson —Has the Prime Minister been given information?

Senator BOB BROWN —No, has he asked for information?

Dr Dickson —No, not that I am aware of.

Senator BOB BROWN —No?

Dr Dickson —Not to PM&C.

Senator BOB BROWN —Has he been afforded any information about the species which is directly, as I explained, under his authority through the regional forest agreement? He is the ultimate minister who has carriage of the protection of this species through the regional forest agreement.

Dr Dickson —As you know, Minister Garrett is the minister responsible for the endangered species legislation—

Senator BOB BROWN —Can I just halt you there. What power does Minister Garrett have to alter the regional forest agreement?

Dr Dickson —Can I go back and finish my answer?

Senator BOB BROWN —Yes.

Dr Dickson —So those matters would be looked after by Minister Garrett. The reason that a Prime Minister would become involved is if there was any need to change the regional forest agreement and there would need to be a breach of that agreement. Under the agreement there is quite a significant series of steps that would go through before it got to the point of where the agreement might need to be changed which, as you said in the beginning, is when the Prime Minister and the Premier would need to consider that.

Senator BOB BROWN —There are two steps, aren’t there? One is to notify that there is a dispute that the Commonwealth is concerned about this species. The second is under section 102 to withdraw from the regional forest agreement and then bring into play Minister Garrett’s powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act if the Tasmanian authorities, as they are patently doing, were not taking action to protect the habitat and in particular the nesting site of this very threatened species.

Dr Dickson —But as far as I know we have not got to the first stage yet.

Senator BOB BROWN —But there is a breach of the regional forest agreement. Let me read it to you again. It states that the Commonwealth and Tasmania agree that the:

… application of management strategies and management prescriptions developed under Tasmania’s Forest Management Systems, protect rare and threatened fauna.

And Forestry Tasmania has stated publicly in the last week that it intends to log one of the richest nesting sites for this species known after the current nesting season.

Dr Dickson —Sorry, I think the details of that you would need to pursue with the department. All I can say is that at this stage neither PM&C nor the Prime Minister is involved while these discussions are going on.

Senator BOB BROWN —You see, what I am very concerned about is that it may be that the Prime Minister has not been alerted to the fact that he has personal responsibility here. Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act Mr Garrett has no direct responsibility because the regional forest agreement excludes Tasmanian forests from the reach of that act, and the regional forest agreement, which is committed to protecting rare and threatened species, is the direct responsibility of Prime Minister Rudd. Here we have the nursery of a threatened species. It has been announced that they are going to destroy one of the richest parts of that nursery after this breeding season. The only person who can take action on that under this arrangement is Prime Minister Rudd, and you are telling me that he has not been informed about it or has not asked for information about it. Can you tell me what other avenue of Commonwealth action there is to intervene on a declared intention by the Tasmanian authorities to destroy that nesting site and in the meantime log some 70 other coupes which are potential or real nesting sites for this species in this year?

Dr Dickson —The regional forest agreement sets up a process for the Commonwealth and the state of Tasmania to work through exactly those issues. That is the process that is being worked through at the moment between the relevant departments of the Commonwealth, which are the Department of the Environment, Heritage and the Arts and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and with their Tasmanian counterparts, both on the recovery plan and the management prescriptions.

Senator BOB BROWN —You mentioned a management plan from 2001 to 2005, which has patently failed. The figures are showing that the number of this species is dropping. There is no current management plan, although there ought to have been, from 2006. It is somewhere in the department but it has been repressed. It is not evident; it has not been drawn up. The Tasmanian authorities are logging up to 1,000 hectares of the nesting site of this bird—and there is nowhere else in the world where they nest—per annum. You know that and the department knows that. This is a nationally listed endangered species. The report from Margaret Blakers et al today says that it should be listed as critically endangered, and you say there are processes underway. Can you tell this committee any single action that the Commonwealth has taken in the last 10 years to protect the nesting site of this endangered species in Tasmania?

Dr Dickson —The specifics of the swift parrot management I can not advise you on. I am not privy to those details. Again, it is really the environment department that would be able to talk about the specifics that are being undertaken for that species.

Senator BOB BROWN —What action in law can the environment department take to stop the destruction of the nesting sites, in Wielangta or elsewhere in south-east Tasmania, of this endangered species?

Dr Dickson —Again, I will go through the process whereby issues that arise during the regional forest agreement period are settled between the Commonwealth and the state of Tasmania.

Senator BOB BROWN —But remember I asked what action the department can take. We know what issues have arisen: they are destroying the nesting sites. The question I asked is: what action in law can that department take to stop the destruction of these nesting sites?

Dr Dickson —The processes under the RFA—and there is quite a sequence of processes, as you know; you have outlined them yourself—would need to have been gone through before you could end up at the point of a breach and a dispute and a change to the approach.

Senator BOB BROWN —Is there, besides the regional forest agreement, any legal avenue for the Commonwealth to intervene?

Dr Dickson —I think the processes are set out in the RFA and also in the EPBC legislation; they indicate quite clearly what the processes for intervention are, and there are quite a few steps to go through to get to that point.

Senator BOB BROWN —You are an expert in this field. Is there any other process under the EPBC Act, other than the regional forest agreement, through which the federal government can prevent the destruction of more of the nesting habitat of the endangered swift parrot?

Dr Dickson —The process is the one through the regional forest agreement.

Senator BOB BROWN —Only through the regional forest agreement?

Dr Dickson —Only through the regional forest agreement, yes—in relation to forestry activities in Tasmania. With other activities, obviously, the EPBC Act comes into play.

Senator BOB BROWN —By the way, what other action has been taken in law, if any—and you are now getting to non-forest, private lands—by the Commonwealth, watching the trajectory of this species towards extinction?

Dr Dickson —I cannot answer on the detail of that. There are a number of programs the Commonwealth has had over the years to support endangered species protection, including, I think, a private forest land conservation program as well as a number of other programs under environmental—

Senator BOB BROWN —I just want to go back again, now that we have established that only the regional forest agreement can provide a legal mechanism for the Commonwealth to intervene where the state is determined to log nesting sites. Who is the minister in charge of the regional forest agreement?

Dr Dickson —The minister in charge of the forest agreement is Minister Burke, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, in consultation with the minister for the environment.

Senator BOB BROWN —Who signed the regional forest agreement?

Dr Dickson —It was signed by the Prime Minister and the Premier.

Senator BOB BROWN —And who else could sign a regional forest agreement?

Dr Dickson —The current policy is that these agreements are signed between the head of the Commonwealth and the head of a state.

Senator BOB BROWN —Then which minister has the power to declare a dispute under the regional forest agreement and/or to withdraw from the regional forest agreement?

Dr Dickson —I am just trying to think through the details of the legislation. I do not think a dispute has to be declared. I think there is a series of steps. But, as to the detail of that process, can I refer you to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on the detail of working through the RFAs.

Senator BOB BROWN —Mr Gageler, representing the Commonwealth in the Federal Court, said:

What it is, is an obligation not legally enforceable in clause 68, but subject to the sanction in clause 102—

which is withdrawal from the regional forest agreement—

if there is a serious breach. It is an obligation to adhere to requirements that are designed in their very design, in the original design and as amended from time to time, are intended to deliver an outcome.

And the outcome, as we have heard, is to protect rare and threatened species. Finkelstein J in the court said:

If a State doesn’t satisfy its obligations under an RFA—

‘State’ meaning Tasmania or the Commonwealth—

by having these things in place, then you can’t be doing it in accordance with an RFA, because an RFA has certain requirements imposed on a State.

Mr Gageler, for the Commonwealth:

Yes, that is right.

I again put it to you: what action has taken place within the office of the minister who has responsibility for the regional forest agreement—that is, the Prime Minister—to ensure that clause 68, which says ‘protect rare and threatened fauna’ is being adhered to in the case of the swift parrot?

Dr Dickson —We can give you some advice of what the process is—which I am sure that you are already aware of—in terms of working through the issues through the various mechanisms under the RFA, including the current process of looking at the response to the review, which has been considered by the responsible departments in the Commonwealth.

Senator BOB BROWN —My information is the survey that was being done on the swift parrot on the mainland in winter, which was to establish its numbers, has been defunded; it is no longer being funded. Is that right or wrong?

Dr Dickson —I do not know. I cannot answer that.

Mr Mrdak —We will take that on notice, if that is okay. We will come back to you with a response as soon as possible.

Senator BOB BROWN —We have heard that the management plan for 2001-05 is still in place because the management plan for 2006-10 is not extant. Why is that the case?

Dr Dickson —You would have to ask the department of environment. They manage the recovery plan process.

Senator BOB BROWN —I just find it extraordinary that I am being told to ask a department which does not have the ability to intervene in a regional forest agreement—only the Prime Minister does. You are saying that he has asked for no information and has been given none. I ask you: will you draw this to the Prime Minister’s attention as his specified responsibility through the Regional Forest Agreements Act, because there is no other avenue to protect the swift parrot from going to extinction and, in particular, to stop the logging of its very many limited nesting sites in Tasmania?

Dr Dickson —The ministers have the responsibility to work through those issues. If the issues can be settled to the satisfaction of the Commonwealth in terms of the protection of the species then there is no need to go any further.

Senator BOB BROWN —Okay. The ministers have the responsibility and 4,000 hectares of the very limited nesting forests of this species have been logged in this decade. What action have the ministers taken in that time to prevent that destruction, which is going to continue this summer, as this bird heads to extinction? Can you name one piece of action that any Commonwealth minister has taken to stop the deliberated process of this bird going to extinction that is being undertaken by the Tasmanian logging authorities?

Dr Dickson —We could undertake to get some detailed advice for you on the activities that have been undertaken for the conservation of the swift parrot, including that background information, and provide that to you on notice. We do not have those details here.

Senator BOB BROWN —I do not need that because I know that the assessment of the swift parrot has been defunded. The one person who has been working on it in the Tasmanian government has been transferred to other duties. Nothing is happening. Let me tell you: nothing is happening in terms of studying the process to extinction of this particular species. I am obviously, very obviously—and I am not the only one—extraordinarily alarmed about the complete breakdown of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which was hailed as a world leader in protecting a specific species which is internationally listed as endangered and which is having its nesting site rapidly eroded for a process which has plenty of other alternatives—actually it is to feed the export woodchip industry—and there has not been one piece of intervention by the Commonwealth. I am pointing out that the Prime Minister is the only minister who can take action here. Prime Minister Howard in his last year of office and Premier Lennon altered the regional forest agreement as a means of assuring themselves that they were not vulnerable to the very line of concern that I am expressing to you now. I ask you: has Prime Minister Rudd reviewed the regional forest agreement in light of the threat to the swift parrot which logging in Tasmania is rapidly presenting and which is well known amongst scientists and people who are concerned about its plight, amongst that of other species?

CHAIR —Excuse me, before you answer that—

Dr Dickson —Sure.

CHAIR —Senator Brown, could you give me some indication of how much more time you need, because we have a strict time line that we are trying to adhere to so as to get through the rest of this before our dinner break?

Senator BOB BROWN —I think in three or four minutes I will be right, thank you.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Dr Dickson —You were asking what the Prime Minister needs to know about the swift parrot. Is that what you were asking—

Senator BOB BROWN —Yes.

Dr Dickson —or about the broader issues? The work that is underway involves looking at the review of the RFA and where there are any issues such as failures in protection of various species. That is going to be looked at as part of the assessment of the review. That process is still underway, and so the Commonwealth consideration of those issues has not been completed. When that happens and if there are any issues that would require the Prime Minister’s attention, we would be informing him then.

Senator BOB BROWN —You cannot tell me when that will be finished.

Dr Dickson —No, I cannot.

Senator BOB BROWN —But 73 coups, hundreds of hectares of this bird’s last nesting site, will be destroyed this summer. Do you not see that as an urgent matter to bring to the Prime Minister’s attention?

Dr Dickson —We can seek advice on it.

Senator BOB BROWN —Seek advice from whom?

Dr Dickson —From the department of environment.

Senator BOB BROWN —What action will be taken?

Dr Dickson —Again, as I said, it is part of the assessment of whether or not there is any breach of the RFA or of the protections under the RFA. The departments look at all the evidence that is provided to them in doing that.

Senator BOB BROWN —I will just ask as a final despairing question on this issue: Forestry Tasmania has said that they will log as intended at the end of summer instead of now because there are birds nesting in a particular site in Wielangta. Last year or the year before, they actually stopped logging halfway through a coup because they found it was a nesting site for the birds. No doubt, every year, not only nesting sites but nesting birds and their young are being destroyed as this species heads towards extinction by this clear fell and open logging process. Can you tell the committee of any accommodating factor under the regional forest agreement or under environmental law in this country which would permit the logging of one of the richest nesting sites for this bird in this coming summer, after the birds who have nested there have left, never again to return?

Dr Dickson —If I can ask again: if you are happy for us to take on notice what action is being taken and the factors that are being looked at for the swift parrot, we can provide that.

Senator BOB BROWN —I am. But, Ms Dickson, let me just tell that no action has been taken, except defunding of some of the scientists who have been working in this field. That is what is happening at the moment.

Senator Faulkner —I am happy to ensure that the line of questioning that you have pursued is passed through to the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister. I will undertake to do that for you.

Senator BOB BROWN —Thank you, Senator Faulkner. I would really appreciate that.

Senator Faulkner —I have listened carefully to what you have said. While I do not have any knowledge of the detail, I have heard the line of questioning, obviously, that you have asked and we can certainly make the Prime Minister’s office aware of that urgently, and it can be drawn to the Prime Minister’s attention appropriately.

Senator BOB BROWN —I would appreciate that. Thank you.

[5.14 pm]

CHAIR —As there are no further questions on output 1, we will now move to output 2.

Senator BOYCE —I particularly want to look at social inclusion in that output.

CHAIR —Can I advise members of the committee that, after dinner, we will start with the Department of Climate Change.

Senator BOYCE —I just want to go through where you are at with social inclusion. We had a board appointed in May—that is correct—which has held three meetings, I think. What has been achieved in those three meetings?

Ms Peake —Over the last period of time, the board has been very active in advising the government on a range of strategies that are underway to promote social inclusion, including in relation to the homelessness strategy, and also having input into the development of the measures that were discussed earlier for the COAG reforms, looking at what should be measured in health and education and early childhood—what the indicators should be. So those have been two of the important areas.

Senator BOYCE —When you say ‘input into the homelessness strategy’, what was the input?

Ms Peake —Advice has been fed through on the draft report. As well as in the area of homelessness, in the area of early childhood there was a presentation to the board by the Boston Consulting Group, which was doing that work, and feedback was provided on the sorts of initiatives that were proposed, looking at what really was the best evidence available from Australia and internationally on involving vulnerable families in family support initiatives and in early childhood type initiatives. That was drawing on the expertise of the Social Inclusion Board in areas that government is looking at, and similarly in employment service areas. It was also to identify the sorts of factors to take into account in identifying priority locations to target for a more concentrated approach to looking at multiple and entrenched disadvantage. Where might you focus your effort? What sort of methodology would you employ to identify priority locations across Australia? It was also to think about how you might then draw together that range of government actions—how the work that is happening through the COAG reforms to reform how services are delivered and the work that is happening in relation to homelessness and early childhood and employment services reforms might be brought together in different ways in particular locations.

Senator BOYCE —You have a budget of $14 million over four years; is that correct? I think it is $14.4 million or something like that. Perhaps I could just go on with my questions whilst you check that. So you have $14.4 million over four years. You have 14 board members. What is the size of the secretariat supporting this? That information did not seem to be easily available.

Ms Peake —In the secretariat we have four staff involved in supporting that.

Senator BOYCE —Directly and exclusively working on social inclusion?

Ms Peake —That is right, and supporting the board as part of their role.

Senator BOYCE —Could you just run me through what their levels are and what they do.

Ms Peake —Certainly. There is one EL2, one EL1, an APS6 and an APS5, and those staff are involved in providing secretariat support to the board, including supporting board consultations. Board members have been involved in touching base with a range of really important stakeholders and memberships of, for example, disability and mental health groups—some of the peak bodies—so this group of staff has supported them in that. They have supported the board in their reporting arrangements. They also make sure that information is updated onto the social inclusion website and coordinate communication of the social inclusion agenda.

Senator BOYCE —So what are the annual wages or salary for that secretariat?

Ms Patterson —I do not have a figure for you at the moment. I will just double-check.

Ms Peake —We can certainly take that on notice for you.

Senator BOYCE —Are the board members paid?

Ms Peake —Yes. I can tell you about the sitting fees. The chair is paid a sitting fee of $645 per day and the members are paid $509 per day. That was determined by the Remuneration Tribunal.

Senator BOYCE —And that is all? They receive sitting fees for when the board meets; is that correct?

Ms Peake —They are also eligible for business class travel and accommodation, meals and incidental expenses for the meetings, as determined by the Remuneration Tribunal.

Senator BOYCE —I appreciate what you have said about input into the homelessness green paper. Has there been actual consultation with groups of homeless people, or what? How has it gone?

Ms Peake —Certainly in other areas there have been those consultations.

Senator BOYCE —But not by the Social Inclusion Board?

Ms Peake —Not on homelessness, no. But in other areas the board has been involved in consultations.

Senator BOYCE —For instance, did they have input into the National Disability Strategy?

Ms Patterson —A number of board members met with a number of different peak bodies for both the disability and the mental health sectors, in addition to the consultations that were happening by those responsible for the development of that strategy.

Senator BOYCE —So the board did have input into the strategy?

Ms Patterson —Yes. They formed some views from that and they provided those views to the relevant ministers. They provided input in that way.

Senator BOYCE —I went back to the McClure report of 2000, which was commissioned by the then minister, Senator Jocelyn Newman, which identified three areas to focus on—jobless families, reliance on income support and the need for strengthening communities—as the three core areas that you needed to work on if you were going to improve life for people with social disadvantage. I am just trying to work out what is different. What have we achieved since? What is different from what we are doing now?

Ms Peake —In terms of what we are doing now?

Senator BOYCE —Yes.

Ms Peake —Again, I think we go back to the range of strategies that are underway that are really targeting those same areas of endeavour. If we look at the issues around social cohesion and strengthening communities, the particular focus of the board on thinking about how you target areas of Australia where there is concentrated and multiple disadvantage is really looking at how you combine service delivery reform with initiatives to strengthen community participation. Where that work is up to is that there has been a lot of work done over the last six months looking at the methodology for identifying those locations.

Senator BOYCE —So this is locational disadvantage, in the main, that we are talking about here?

Ms Peake —Yes, that is right. In parallel, in terms of the issues around jobless families, which I think was the second priority that you mentioned, there has been some early work done through some of the employment services reforms, but it is an area where at the moment further advice is being prepared for government about the evidence from around the world about what does make a difference for jobless families. That is certainly one of the priorities that they are very focused on.

Senator BOYCE —Given the economic climate we are in and some of the reports today, jobless families are obviously something that we are certainly going to need to concentrate on in this area.

Ms Peake —Yes.

Senator BOYCE —As you were saying, there was a big report from the Institute of Family Studies, I think. How did that link in with the Boston Consulting Group material? Are they connected?

Ms Peake —Certainly one of the roles of the board is to look across government at the range of initiatives that are underway and make sure that there is a social inclusion emphasis in all of those bodies of work. Boston Consulting Group came and met with the board, and there was a discussion back from the board about their views on what the most significant steps to take are in ensuring that vulnerable families are connected into local universal services and to ensure that there are specific responses to vulnerable children that are built into things like the National Child Protection Framework. But there is also a specific body of advice that the board has been asked to provide to government about children at risk and what you do.

Senator BOYCE —I must admit that the Boston Consulting Group are probably not the first people I would have thought about in terms of getting some advice on dealing with vulnerable children. How were they chosen? Why the Boston Consulting Group?

Ms Carroll —Boston Consulting Group was chosen by the Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations to do the contract. I understand, but you could ask them for further detail, that there was a select tender process.

Senator BOYCE —That was in relation to the early child care—

Ms Carroll —The early childhood development strategy.

Senator BOYCE —Sorry, the early childhood development strategy. What other outside consultant groups has the board used?

Ms Patterson —The board did not contract the Boston Consulting Group but in terms of other—

Senator BOYCE —Who does the contracting of consultant groups for the board then?

Ms Patterson —The Social Inclusion Unit has had three consultancies over the past seven or eight months. The first one was with the Australian Institute of Family Studies to produce an overview of social inclusion theory in the Australian case—

Senator BOYCE —In the Australian context?

Ms Patterson —Yes, in the Australian context. That was recently published and it is available on the website. We have a consultancy with the Queensland University of Technology, which is not yet finished, to look at the reform of the not-for-profit sector.

Senator BOYCE —That would be with McGregor-Lowndes’ lot, I presume, is it?

Ms Patterson —Yes. We also have a small contract at the moment with the University of New South Wales, where we have asked them to provide us to give to the board and to government a state of play for jobless families in the Australian context. We have commissioned an expert there to provide us with that information.

Senator BOYCE —Could you explain what you mean a bit more by ‘state of play’?

Ms Patterson —One of those broad overviews of how jobless families fit into the Australian context against a range of different indicators and comparability with overseas cases.

Senator BOYCE —This would simply be analysing data sets, would it?

Ms Patterson —It is Professor Peter Whiteford from the Social Policy Research Centre who has worked at the OECD as well. It is more than data sets; it is data sets plus a whole lot of social policy research that goes alongside that. It was to try to give to the board the best picture that we can of a broad and in context view of jobless families in the Australian situation to help them situate their advice.

Senator BOYCE —Do we have a cost for these consultancies?

Ms Patterson —We do. The AIFS contract, which was the first one I mentioned, the total cost for that including GST was $16,500. The contract that we have with the Queensland University of Technology is a daily rate fee payable at the rate of $1,500 per day up to a maximum of 14 days. That would be $21,000, if that was what was realised. And the contract that we have with UNSW is for $2,000 per day up to a total of $30,000.

Senator BOYCE —That is 15 work days.

Ms Patterson —So that would be 15 days. But in both those cases we do not anticipate that that maximum number of days would be used.

Senator BOYCE —So these are going to be desktop research projects?

Ms Patterson —Yes, Senator.

Senator BOYCE —There will not be any depth to them—I am sorry, I should rephrase that. They will not require long research or qualitative research.

Ms Patterson —No, we have gone to experts and asked them to draw on the knowledge that they already have and bring that together.

Senator BOYCE —Yes. Just moving on from that. There is all the material here from the Australian Institute of Family Studies but also material on the UK board of social inclusion that I think was set up 10 years ago. One of the criticisms that was made of that board at the time was that it was composed of millionaires and famous people. All the people on the Australian board are very notable and outstanding Australians in their areas, many of them, but there is no-one there, other than perhaps Dr Chris Sarra, that you could identify as saying, ‘This person can speak from their own experience of what social disadvantage is like.’ Has that criticism been brought to your board?

Ms Peake —One of the other people who is quite important on the board is the chair. Patricia Faulkner, having headed up the Department of Human Services in Victoria which was responsible for a lot of the service delivery for this target group over a seven-year period, brings some of that expertise from a government perspective as well.

Senator BOYCE —But very little personal experience of social disadvantage. I do not know what Mr Eddie McGuire’s family background is. But when you look through the list of people on that list, yes, notable Australians but not exactly people you would have identified as having come from ‘struggle street’, to use a cliché.

Ms Peake —One of the things that is in the terms of reference for the board is to hold consultations with a range of groups. One of the things that we have asked for advice on from the board is how that might be undertaken in the next period of time, which does go to your point about how do you hear the voice of more vulnerable groups in informing that policy development process.

Senator BOYCE —I hope that works. There are a couple of other areas that I noted. There is no Indigenous specific mentions in the material on the website. Why is that?

Ms Peake —The Closing the Gap work has been happening in parallel, and the board has been asked to ensure that, in more mainstream areas of policy development, Indigenous issues are absolutely front and centre, rather than there being an Indigenous specific reference that has been made about separate service delivery.

Senator BOYCE —Sorry, so you are saying that Indigenous issues are considered by the Social Inclusion Board?

Ms Peake —In everything that they do that is certainly something that is asked of them, but working in parallel with the absolute focus in the Closing the Gap strategy specifically on Indigenous issues.

Senator BOYCE —I am not quite sure if I am understanding, because I would have thought that one of the most important things about social inclusion was that you looked across the spectrum at every group that you perceive to be disadvantaged and not start creating new silos.

Ms Peake —Sorry, I am not explaining myself very well. We are really trying to do both things. So there is the Closing the Gap strategy which is looking across health, education, employment and community development at some specific issues around boosting Indigenous outcomes, and others can speak to that, but in parallel asking the Social Inclusion Board, in anything they are advising on, to have a specific focus on the most vulnerable groups and places, and that therefore includes Indigenous Australians. So if there is advice, for example, that is given on early childhood—and there are a number of members on the board who are Aboriginal—one of the things that the board discusses is what would this mean for Aboriginal communities or Aboriginal families that might be living in areas where there isn’t a large Aboriginal community for them to draw support from.

Senator BOYCE —That sort of informal embedded approach you are talking about there leads me to my next question which is: how will we know if the Social Inclusion Board and the Social Inclusion Unit are achieving? What benchmarks do you have?

Ms Peake —One of the important tasks before the board right at the moment is to provide that advice on what those measures should be, and one of their terms of reference is to provide an annual report on how we are progressing in relation to social inclusion. So the work is in progress to define what are the measures of productivity and participation and, as I mentioned earlier, some of that we are looking to embed in the COAG agreements so that it is not only happening over here with the Social Inclusion Board but also it is embedded in a range of government reporting.

Senator BOYCE —When would you anticipate the first annual report? You have a reporting date, I take it?

Ms Patterson —The Social Inclusion Board was asked to report annually. They had their first meeting in May of this year, so around May 2009 would be a 12-month period thereafter.

Senator BOYCE —A couple of other things I wanted to raise, because it seems to me one thing the Social Inclusion Unit and board could be do is playing inclusive policemen on government. The new out of school hours program for secondary school students with a disability is not coming out of the education department which is where every other out of school hours program is located. Are you aware of this? Were you consulted about that at all?

Ms Carroll —We have not been specifically consulted within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator BOYCE —The other one I would raise is I know that Women With Disabilities Australia wrote to the Prime Minister when the National Council to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children was set up pointing out that there is no woman with a disability on this council despite the fact that women with disabilities experience violence at a far higher rate than any other group in the community. Again, were you aware of that?

Ms Peake —Certainly when the board was established it was not established as a representative group but as a group with a particular set of expertise and that is why the consultative role of the board is very important. The consultations that have been happening with, specifically, mental health and disability peak bodies are really important. But that is certainly something that we are happy to take back to the board as a particular issue.

Senator BOYCE —So the board is prepared to accept representations from people who feel that there are areas where exclusion is more the norm than inclusion.

Ms Peake —I think that is in keeping with their consultation role. Certainly in terms of their terms of reference particular areas for them to look at are those that are referred by the Minister for Social Inclusion. But, where there are issues that are coming through from the community that the board believes should be brought to the attention of the government, that is an appropriate role for the board.

Senator BOYCE —And the board or the unit does not have any overarching purview of government policy and social inclusion? I mean we are talking about a couple of examples here that I think were indicative that disadvantaged groups have not been included. So you do not have any sort of watch on this?

Ms Peake —Certainly the early priorities that have been asked of the board relate to jobless families with children at risk and neighbourhoods of concentrated disadvantage. And they really are thinking in each of those areas not only holistically but also their specific routes that these issues become relevant in different types of ways. So in that sense, absolutely, the board is looking at those three areas and at disability as a key issue in relation to each of those areas. As I said, we are really happy to take back with us those two issues in particular and see how they fit with the broader advice that the board is providing.

Senator BOYCE —Thank you. I could continue but given the time I will not.

[5.37 pm]

CHAIR —As there are no further questions on output group 2, we will move on to output 3, International policy advice.

Senator RONALDSON —Given that we talked about output 5.7 with 2020, can I just indicate to Mr Mrdak that I will put some questions on notice in relation to the 2020 conference given the hour, unless we get time to get back to it, which I suspect we will not.

Senator TROOD —Mr Borrowman, I want to ask a couple of questions about policy development, in particular the National Security Statement. Can you do that for me?

Mr Borrowman —I am afraid I cannot.

Mr Mrdak —My apologies, Senator, Mr Lewis has been detained at a meeting with the Prime Minister. He is best placed to deal with the National Security Statement. I understand that he is endeavouring to get here as soon as he can. We will try to answer your questions as best we can but I do apologise.

Senator TROOD —Is the border security review Mr Lewis’s province as well? Or is that Mr Borrowman?

Mr Borrowman —No.

Mr Mrdak —No, it is Mr Lewis. My apologies again. Mr Lewis has just been called away.

Senator TROOD —All right. I will move on. I wanted to ask some questions about the Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. Is that Mr Lewis too?

Mr Mrdak —Dr Floyd will take questions on that matter.

Senator TROOD —In relation to the commission, which the Prime Minister has announced, I want to clarify, firstly, is Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet the lead agency in relation to managing that commission?

Dr Floyd —The lead agency for managing the commission is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Our involvement in this is merely a coordination role and an oversight role with the Prime Minister’s office.

Senator TROOD —Does that mean that the department of foreign affairs is bearing any and all of the costs relating to the commission?

Dr Floyd —That is correct.

Senator TROOD —So PM&C is not bearing any of the costs?

Dr Floyd —We are only bearing our normal policy coordination role with regard to the commission. All additional costs are being borne by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Senator TROOD —Does your role run to appointments to the commission?

Dr Floyd —No, it does not.

Senator TROOD —Are you providing any advice about appointments to the commission?

Dr Floyd —No, we have not.

Senator TROOD —You may not be able to answer this question, but are the appointments to the commission now complete?

Dr Floyd —The commissioners have all been named. They were named when the Prime Minister was at the UN General Assembly recently in New York. The full set of 16 commissioners has now been named and they are eminent individuals. Some of them are ex prime ministers, foreign ministers and other senior people from various countries around the world.

Senator TROOD —So the questions about costs in relation to this are best directed to DFAT, is that what you wish to tell me?

Dr Floyd —That is correct.

Senator TROOD —You would encourage me to pursue that matter with them?

Dr Floyd —That is correct, Senator.

Senator TROOD —Perhaps you can help me also with the Asia-Pacific community idea of the Prime Minister.

Mr Borrowman —That is me, Senator.

Senator TROOD —That is you, Mr Borrowman.

Mr Borrowman —It is indeed, Senator.

Senator TROOD —Good to hear from you. Can you tell me in relation to that issue whether PM&C is the lead agency or is that a DFAT matter as well?

Mr Borrowman —That is also a DFAT matter, Senator. DFAT is providing the secretariat to the Prime Minister’s special envoy. DFAT has the lead.

Senator TROOD —The costs in relation to the special envoy: who is bearing that?

Mr Borrowman —DFAT, Senator.

Senator TROOD —This is a great idea, isn’t it? The Prime Minister comes up with all these suggestions and the department of foreign affairs ends up having to bear all the costs of it. So PM&C is not bearing any of the costs in relation to that matter either?

Mr Borrowman —In the same sense as Dr Floyd just answered, Senator, only our normal administrative costs.

Senator TROOD —Can you tell me whether you are maintaining a monitoring role in relation to Mr Woolcott’s activities? Is he reporting to the Prime Minister in relation to this matter or primarily to the Minister for Foreign Affairs?

Mr Borrowman —He is the Prime Minister’s special envoy so in that sense it is envisaged that the special envoy will report to the Prime Minister, but no report has yet been made.

Senator TROOD —Are you expecting the report soon or is that something way down the track?

Mr Borrowman —We will be expecting an interim report, Senator, in the context of the forthcoming APEC meeting but the special envoy’s consultations will not have concluded by that stage, so there will be no final report this year.

Senator TROOD —So Mr Woolcott has been in the region already, has he?

Mr Borrowman —Yes, he has, Senator.

Senator TROOD —How many trips has he made?

Mr Borrowman —I do not know how many trips he has made but I can tell you how many countries he has been to. I do not know how these countries were organised by the itinerary.

Senator TROOD —How many countries has he been to?

Mr Borrowman —He has been to New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Japan and at the moment he is in Chile and he will do Mexico and Peru as part of this same group.

Senator TROOD —Is the intention that he will move around each of the countries that are members of APEC or move around each of the countries that are in some definition of ‘the region’? Could you clarify that for me please?

Mr Borrowman —It is more the latter, Senator. It is not only or, indeed, inclusively APEC countries or APEC member economies, I should say, because APEC is categorised as economies.

Senator TROOD —Yes, indeed. But it is not exclusively the APEC economies?

Mr Borrowman —That is correct, Senator.

Senator TROOD —The additional places or countries that he might visit are or are not part of the, shall we use the term East Asia region, or Asia region?

Mr Borrowman —Yes, they are definitely part of the region, Senator.

Senator TROOD —Is he expecting to make scheduled or regular reports? He is making a report in the lead up to the APEC meeting. Is he scheduled then to make another one in three months time and another one in six months time? Or is it as opportunity arises and as progress is reported?

Mr Borrowman —Insofar as we have agreed on an interim report, there is obviously going to be a final report, there is not any particular decision as to a further interim report. There may be, there may not be, depending on how really things go. There is no schedule that I am aware of other than the pre-APEC report and the final report.

Senator TROOD —Is there a period of time at which his appointment expires or is it an open-ended appointment?

Mr Borrowman —I think I had better defer to DFAT on that. I suspect there is a distinction here between the appointment and the contract term. Presumably there is a contract term but that is something you would have to talk to DFAT about. Whether his appointment as an envoy is coterminous with that, I could not say.

Senator TROOD —I will ask further questions of DFAT in relation to that matter later in the week. In relation to the Prime Minister’s proposal that Australia will pursue a seat non-permanent seat on the Security Council. Is that a matter that you have under your purview, Mr Borrowman?

Mr Borrowman —Insofar as it is within PM&C’s responsibility, yes, but again it is a DFAT lead. DFAT is running the campaign for the candidacy.

Senator TROOD —Has PM&C done any estimates of the likely costs of this campaign?

Mr Borrowman —No, we have not, Senator.

Senator TROOD —Has the government overall made any estimates of the likely costs involved?

Mr Borrowman —I think that is a question that you should direct to the department of foreign affairs.

Senator TROOD —I will do that and presumably foreign affairs will have some view on it. But do you have a view on it?

Mr Borrowman —No, I do not have a view on it, Senator. All I can say in answer to your question is that the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has not done any costings on it.

Senator TROOD —Have not?

Mr Borrowman —No, we have not.

Senator TROOD —Would you expect to be doing that or is this a matter that will take its course?

Mr Borrowman —We would not expect to do that. We would expect and, indeed, anticipate that the department of foreign affairs would bring forward a proposal for funding in the normal budget processes.

Senator TROOD —And that will be a DFAT expense?

Mr Borrowman —Yes, Senator.

Senator TROOD —Mr Borrowman, this is perhaps your purview. Are you familiar with the Prime Minister’s speech to the RSL in Townsville?

Mr Borrowman —I am aware of the speech, Senator.

Senator TROOD —Did you have a role in preparing that speech? Not you, personally, but people within the department?

Mr Borrowman —I believe that it is a question more correctly answered by my colleague, Mr Campbell.

Mr Mrdak —Senator, Mr Campbell is now also available if you wanted to those questions in relation to the Homeland and Border Security Review and the like.

Senator TROOD —Thank you, Mr Mrdak.

Senator TROOD —Thank you. Mr Campbell, I was asking about the Prime Minister’s speech to the RSL in Townsville and whether or not the department had a role in preparing the speech.

Mr Campbell —The Office of National Security prepared some talking points for that speech and provided them to the PMO.

Senator TROOD —Were you the only department to do that?

Mr Campbell —That I know of, yes. We do attempt to ensure that our points cover the range of views across a whole-of-government perspective.

Senator TROOD —This speech attracted some attention, I think you would agree, Mr Campbell, when it was delivered. One of the areas that attracted attention was the suggestion that an arms build-up was taking place in the region. Is that your recollection of the matter?

Mr Campbell —Yes, I do recall that was commented on in the press.

Senator TROOD —Was that part of your speaking notes to the Prime Minister?

Mr Campbell —We do not discuss the particular advice or points that we offer to the Prime Minister or the PMO.

Senator TROOD —But you gave speaking notes on a range of issues covered in the speech—is that correct?

Mr Campbell —That is correct.

Senator TROOD —Has your office made done any work on arms build-up in the Asia-Pacific recently?

Mr Campbell —No.

Senator TROOD —You have not done any assessments and you have not considered the matter for any policy activities, any speeches or anything of that kind. Is that what you are telling me?

Mr Campbell —We do not do assessments.

Senator TROOD —I understand that.

Mr Campbell —We take those from intelligence agencies.

Senator TROOD —I understand that, but have you done any policy work on arms racing in the Asia-Pacific region?

Mr Campbell —We have not done any policy work on arms build-ups in the region.

Senator TROOD —Are you aware of any agency that has done work in that area?

Mr Campbell —You may wish to engage the Department of Defence possibly or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I am considering in particular the defence white paper process and all the agencies that are engaged in that. I cannot specifically direct you to an agency that is dealing with that issue.

Senator TROOD —So I could ask them some questions about it. I am sure they will be grateful to you for providing that lead, Mr Campbell. When the Prime Minister delivered that speech, he said:

We see a substantial arms build-up over time in the region.

You perhaps recall those words. Whether or not you provided that advice to him, you may recall those words. Not very much later, Mr Ric Smith, who I think has been an adviser to your department on various matters, issued a subsequent statement in the matter and said:

Neither the data on military spending nor the information about acquisitions suggest that Asia is experiencing an arms race.

Are you familiar with those two remarks?

Mr Campbell —I am.

Senator TROOD —They would seem to be inconsistent with each other, or do I misunderstand the nature of the issue?

Mr Campbell —I am aware of those remarks by Mr Smith.

Senator TROOD —Would you agree that the remarks seem not to be consistent with each other?

Mr Campbell —All I would like to offer is that an arms build-up is not synonymous with an arms race.

Senator TROOD —So they are conceptually different activities—is that what you are telling me?

Mr Campbell —In an earlier life I might have asked you, Senator, but, yes, I believe they are.

Senator TROOD —Happily I do not have to answer this question. Perhaps you can just explain to me how you see the difference between an arms build-up and an arms race.

Mr Campbell —I would take that on notice.

Senator TROOD —You can do that, Mr Campbell, but I am sure it is not beyond your wit to provide me with an answer to that question in the here and now.

Mr Campbell —I would simply offer, then: I think that there is a degree of aggressive competitiveness suggested by the term ‘race’, absent from the term ‘build-up’.

Senator TROOD —I see. So this is perhaps a temporal quality, over the period of time when the arms are increasing—is that what you are saying?

Mr Campbell —In terms of the build-up.

Senator TROOD —Yes. But do I take it that you see that there is an increase in arms in the region that might be of concern to Australian policymakers?

Mr Campbell —I noted that I was not offering comment on the Prime Minister’s speech or the points that we offered for that speech.

Senator TROOD —No, I understand that. You were perfectly correct earlier on in saying that that is not advice you are obliged to give to the committee, and I understand that restraint. But I was not so much asking you a question about the advice as asking you to clarify for me these two apparently inconsistent statements by the Prime Minister, who, ipso facto, is a man of eminence and knowledge, and, of course, Mr Smith, who, by reputation and long experience, also has considerable experience in the field. So here we have two people who seem to be saying rather different things about what I took to be the same issue, and I am trying to clarify and I am asking you to clarify for the committee whether or not these two policy propositions are indeed at odds with each other.

Mr Campbell —I noted earlier that we have not done policy work on these issues, and also I note that it is not unusual for a variety of opinions to be in the public environment with regard to a range of issues.

Senator TROOD —I see. So would you suggest that those commentators in the press and elsewhere who have suggested that these ideas are mutually inconsistent are incorrect?

Mr Campbell —I would not offer a view.

Senator TROOD —You would not like to chance your hand, Mr Campbell?

Mr Campbell —No, Senator. But thank you for offering.

Senator TROOD —Well, I like to give people an opportunity. I can perhaps take it up with your colleagues. Let me move back to the issues that I wanted to raise with you earlier. You were out of the room at the time but your colleagues volunteered your name as the person to whom I should direct these questions.

Mr Campbell —Most generous of them.

Senator TROOD —As they are, I know. The first question was about the National Security Statement. You have been working on this for some time and I think you have answered some questions for me on this in the past. When did you begin working on this?

Mr Campbell —We have developed materials with regard to the National Security Statement—I think the first of those was in approximately December 2007.

Senator TROOD —And there was a group of people drawn together, as I understand it, from your division who were working on the statement. Is that correct?

Mr Campbell —We have engaged a very wide range of agencies across the Commonwealth.

Senator TROOD —According to at least some press reports I have seen, the National Security Statement has in fact been completed. Is that correct?

Mr Campbell —No, it remains in draft.

Senator TROOD —I see. When was the draft completed?

Mr Campbell —I think the latest draft would be of approximately 19 September.

Senator TROOD —And what has happened to the draft since 19 September?

Mr Campbell —It continues to be developed as we see opportunities to enhance it.

Senator TROOD —Perhaps you could just clarify that a bit for me. Are you enhancing it within your own department, or are you developing it and enhancing it in relation to other agencies?

Mr Campbell —A combination of those.

Senator TROOD —So has the draft been circulated amongst the interested security agencies?

Mr Campbell —Yes, a series of drafts at different points in its development have been circulated.

Senator TROOD —Is there a date by which the agencies that are looking at this have to report?

Mr Campbell —No. They are not specifically being invited at the moment to look at a next draft.

Senator TROOD —This is a bit of a movable feast, is it? You are waiting for commentary and assessment and responses to the draft.

Mr Campbell —It remains under development.

Senator TROOD —Is there a time line by which the development will be concluded and the statement will for all intents and purposes be completed?

Mr Campbell —Not other than the advice offered by the government that there is an intention that it be presented before the end of this parliamentary session. We will continue developing our work until that time.

Senator TROOD —By ‘the end of the parliamentary session’ you mean the last week of sittings this year, do you?

Mr Campbell —Yes.

Senator TROOD —The first week of December.

Mr Campbell —Yes, the last sitting week of this year.

Senator TROOD —That date being the date for what—the completion of the statement, the consideration of the statement by government, the dispatch of the statement to perhaps the cabinet or the National Security Committee of Cabinet? What is the significance of that particular date?

Mr Campbell —I am of the understanding that the government has indicated it would be presented by the government by the end of the last sitting week of this year.

Senator TROOD —So by that date you anticipate all of the drafts will be completed, a final statement will have been concluded and the government will have considered the statement and will be releasing it—to the extent to which it chooses to do so—to the public. Is that right?

Mr Campbell —That is right.

Senator TROOD —That is your expectation at this juncture.

Mr Campbell —That is my understanding of what has been advised by the government publicly.

Senator TROOD —Can I ask you about the border security review, for want of a shorter term—Mr Smith’s review, as I understand it—on homeland security and counterterrorism, I think. It is all part of the one—is that not true?

Mr Campbell —The Homeland and Border Security Review.

Senator TROOD —The Homeland and Border Security Review incorporates, does it not, a review of counterterrorism strategy—or at least in part?

Mr Campbell —I am not really in a position to comment on its content.

Senator TROOD —Your colleagues in another committee earlier in the day intimated to us that there was at least some dimension of the statement that covered counterterrorism activity, so there is a view in some parts of the government that it covers counterterrorism strategy. Can we take it that that view is not too far from the truth?

Mr Campbell —I am simply saying that it is a review of homeland and border security.

Senator TROOD —Well, that is the name. Is that review complete?

Mr Campbell —Yes, it is.

Senator TROOD —When was that completed?

Mr Campbell —By Mr Smith?

Senator TROOD —Yes.

Mr Campbell —On approximately 30 June.

Senator TROOD —I think I am right in saying there has been no public announcement about that review. Is that correct?

Mr Campbell —That is correct.

Senator TROOD —When might we expect a public announcement of that review?

Mr Campbell —That would be an issue for the government.

Senator TROOD —Can you tell me if the government has considered the review?

Mr Campbell —It has, and it continues to consider it.

Senator TROOD —So there has been some preliminary consideration of it.

Mr Campbell —I would not seek to characterise the form of consideration.

Senator TROOD —Has it been reviewed by cabinet?

Mr Campbell —By a committee of cabinet.

Senator TROOD —So the National Security Committee of Cabinet has considered it—would that be fair to say?

Senator Faulkner —We do not normally talk about matters that are before the agenda of the National Security Committee of Cabinet.

Senator TROOD —All I am asking is whether or not there has been a consideration of the statement, and I am to trying to determine whether or not it is the—

Senator Faulkner —I think the best way of responding to your question, Senator Trood—because I am sure you would appreciate that it would not be appropriate to talk about matters that are before NSC—is to say that the matter is under consideration by government.

Senator TROOD —Mr Campbell, there is, as yet, no date by which there will be any public announcement about this matter?

Mr Campbell —I am not aware of a date, Senator. That is an issue for government.

Senator TROOD —Can you help me on that, Minister, whether there is an intended or prospective date?

Senator Faulkner —No, Senator, I am not aware of any such date and I have no reason to believe such a date has been determined.

Senator TROOD —Thank you. In the light of time, I think I will thank the officials for their attention to the matter and yield to somebody else.

CHAIR —As there are no further questions for output 3 nor any for output 4, we will move to output 5 as I believe Senator Ronaldson has some questions.

[6.05 pm]

Senator RONALDSON —When I said there were no questions, there were, but timing was the issue. In relation to Government communications, output 5.8, Mr Mrdak, there have been media reports on the financial stimulation package that there will be an advertising campaign. Is that correct that there will be a government advertising campaign?

Mr Mrdak —Not that I am aware of, Senator. There has been no decision taken on that matter.

Senator RONALDSON —Those press reports are false?

Mr Mrdak —Certainly consideration is being given to a campaign to advise people of their entitlements in relation to the package announced but, as far as I am aware, no decisions have been taken.

Senator RONALDSON —Has money been tentatively allocated towards that campaign? Has it been costed?

Mr Mrdak —No, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —Have any agencies been invited to submit proposals for it?

Mr Mrdak —Not that I am aware, Senator.

Senator RONALDSON —Madam Chair, in light of the time I will discontinue my questions so that we can move onto the other agencies.

CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Ronaldson. As there are no other questions for output 5 we will move onto the Australian National Audit Office. I thank the officers for attending.

Senator Faulkner —Can we just wait a minute or two until the Auditor-General joins us at the table. We all appreciate that the Auditor-General has a direct relationship with the parliament so I think he should be here. The plan I understand, Chair, is to complete the agencies under PM&C by 6.30 pm?

CHAIR —That is correct.

Senator Faulkner —I suspect the Auditor-General is in the next room. Could I ask, through you, Chair, in this short interregnum whether it is the intention of the committee to ask anything of the other PM&C agencies? I thought it might not be very likely and if it is not we might release them. It is up to committee members.

Senator RONALDSON —I am happy for them to be released.

Senator FIFIELD —We may have something for the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

Senator Faulkner —Maybe if we hold IGIS, we can say to the Public Service Commission that they might be dismissed, then IGIS is the only other PM&C agency to remain after the ANAO. Does that suit senators?

CHAIR —Everyone is happy with that.

Senator Faulkner —We might ask the committee secretariat to communicate that through.

CHAIR —What about the Ombudsman?

Senator FIFIELD —We did not call them in the first place, I think.

Senator Faulkner —We have not been able to locate the Auditor-General, so can I suggest that, since Mr Carnell is here, we perhaps direct some quick questions to the Inspector-General and I will chase this down.

CHAIR —Is the committee happy with that?

Senator RONALDSON —It is most unsatisfactory, but if he is not here then he is not.

Senator FIFIELD —If he cannot be located then maybe we should schedule questions to him for after dinner.

Senator Faulkner —I suspect that the officials have just been caught a little on the hop because the committee worked through the conclusion of its hearings so quickly. We will do this and we will work cooperatively. I know the committee had planned to have half an hour with the Auditor-General; I think that was the intention. If some questions could be asked of Mr Carnell, I will tick-tack just informally with Senator Ronaldson and work something through.

CHAIR —I was not aware of any time lines on each of the items, only that we were to go through them.

Senator Faulkner —But I think instinctively a maximum of half an hour had been set aside for the Auditor-General—or 25 minutes, let us say, is when stumps were to be drawn. So we will work on this right now.

[6.11 pm]