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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee


In Attendance

Senator Brandis, Attorney-General, Minister for the Arts

Attorney-General's Department

Mr Roger Wilkins AO, Secretary

Mr David Fredericks, Deputy Secretary, Civil Justice and Legal Services Group

Mr Tony Sheehan, Deputy Secretary, Strategic Policy and Coordination Group

Ms Katherine Jones, Acting Deputy Secretary, National Security and Criminal Justice Group

Outcome 1 —A just and secure society through the maintenance and improvement of Australia’s law and justice framework and its national security and emergency management system

Access to Justice Division

Mr Greg Manning, First Assistant Secretary

Dr Albin Smrdel, Assistant Secretary, Courts, Tribunals and Justice Policy Branch

Ms Elizabeth Quinn, Acting Assistant Secretary, Legal Assistance Branch

Ms Tamsyn Harvey, Assistant Secretary, Family Law Branch

Ms Samantha Byng, Acting Assistant Secretary, Marriage and Intercountry Adoption Branch

Civil Law Division

Mr Matt Minogue, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Andrew Walter, Assistant Secretary, Commercial and Administrative Law Branch

Ms Catherine Fitch, Assistant Secretary, Office of Legal Services Coordination

Ms Autumn O’Keefe, Acting Assistant Secretary, Native Title Unit

Mr Matt Little, Acting Director, Native Title Unit

Ms Kathryn Reidy, Acting Assistant Secretary, Classification Branch

Ms Toni Pirani, Assistant Secretary, Royal Commission Commonwealth Representation

International Law and Human Rights Division

Ms Helen Daniels, Assistant Secretary, International Human Rights Law Branch

Ms Anne Sheehan, Acting Assistant Secretary, International Law, Trade and Security Branch

Mr Mark Jennings, Senior Counsel, International Tobacco Litigation Taskforce

Mr Stephen Bouwhuis, Assistant Secretary, Human Rights Policy Branch

Criminal Justice Division

Mr Iain Anderson, First Assistant Secretary

Ms Anna Harmer, Assistant Secretary, AusCheck and Crime Prevention and Federal Offenders Branch

Mr Anthony Coles, Assistant Secretary, Criminal Law and Law Enforcement Branch

Ms Rachel Antone, Director, Operation Sovereign Borders

Emergency Management Australia

Mr Mark Crosweller AFSM, FAIM, Director-General

Ms Raelene Thompson, Assistant Secretary, National Security Training Education and Development

Ms Catherine Jones, Assistant Secretary, National Disaster Recovery Programs Branch

Mr Chris Collett, Assistant Secretary, Crisis Coordination Branch

Mr Mike Norris, Assistant Secretary, Dignitary and Major Events Security Branch

International Crime Cooperation Division

Ms Catherine Hawkins, Acting First Assistant Secretary

Ms Alex Taylor, Assistant Secretary, Transnational Crime and Corruption Branch

Mr Cameron Gifford, Assistant Secretary, International Crime Central Authority

Ms Julie Taylor, Acting Assistant Secretary, International Legal Assistance Branch

National Security Resilience Policy Division

Mr Mike Rothery, First Assistant Secretary

Mr Andrew Rice, Assistant Secretary, Cyber and Identity Security Policy Branch

Mr Michael Jerks, Assistant Secretary, Critical Infrastructure and Protective Security

Ms Samantha Chard, Assistant Secretary, Emergency Management Policy Branch

National Security Law and Policy Division

Ms Jamie Lowe, Acting First Assistant Secretary

Ms Annette Willing, Assistant Secretary, Security Law Branch and National Security Capability Unit

Ms Catherine Smith, Assistant Secretary, Telecommunications and Surveillance Law Branch

Ms Natalie Pearse, Acting Assistant Secretary, National Security Policy and Programs Branch

Defence Abuse Response Taskforce

Mr Matt Hall, Executive Director, Strategic Policy and Coordination Group

Ms Kelly Williams, Assistant Secretary, Deregulation Unit

Ms Petra Gartmann, Chief Executive Officer, Royal Commission Home Insulation Program

Mr William Story, Acting Assistant Secretary, Indigenous Recognition Taskforce

Corporate Division

Mr Stephen Lutze, Chief Finance Officer

Ms Rachael Jackson, Assistant Secretary, People Strategy Branch

Mr Trevor Kennedy, Assistant Secretary, Financial Management, Framework and Property Branch

Strategy and Delivery Division

Ms Sarah Chidgey, Acting First Assistant Secretary and Assistant Secretary, Ministerial, Parliamentary and Communication and Strategic Policy and Governance Branches

Office of Corporate Counsel

Ms Maggie Jackson, First Assistant Secretary

Office of Constitutional Law

Mr James Faulkner SC, General Counsel (Constitutional), Information Division

Ms Joann Corcoran, Chief Information Officer

Outcome 2 —P articipation in, and access to, Australia’s arts and culture through developing and supporting cultural expression

Ministry for the Arts

Ms Sally Basser, Executive Director

Mr Stephen Arnott, Assistant Secretary, Creative Sector Development Branch

Ms Stacey Campton, Assistant Secretary, Indigenous Culture Branch

Mr Grant Lovelock, Assistant Secretary, Arts Partnerships Branch

Ms Lyn Allan, Assistant Secretary, Collections and Cultural Heritage Branch

Administrative Appeals Tribunal

Mr Philip Kellow, Registrar and Chief Executive

Mr Chris Matthies, Executive Director, Information and Development

Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity

Mr Philip Moss, Integrity Commissioner

Ms Sarah Marshall, Acting Executive Director, Operations

Mr Nicholas Sellars, Acting Executive Director Secretariat

Australia Council

Mr Tony Grybowski, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Tim Blackwell, Executive Director, Corporate Resources

Australian Crime Commission

Mr Chris Dawson APM, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Judy Lind, Executive Director Strategy and Specialist Capabilities

Mr Paul Williams, Executive Director, Corporate Services

Mr Paul Jevtovic APM, Executive Director, Operations

Australian Federal Police

Mr Tony Negus, Commissioner

Mr Andrew Wood, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Peter Drennan, Deputy Commissioner, National Security

Mr Andrew Colvin, Deputy Commissioner, Close Operations Support

Mr Michael Phelan, Deputy Commissioner, Crime Operations

Australi an Financial Security Authority

Ms Veronique Ingram, Chief Executive and Inspector-General in Bankruptcy

Mr Andrew Sellars, General Counsel

Mr Gavin McCosker, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Robert Hanlon, Chief Financial Officer

Australian Government Solicitor

Mr Ian Govey, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Daryl Adam, Corporate Secretary

Australian Human Rights Commission

Professor Gillian Triggs, President

Ms Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner

Mr Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner

Mr Graeme Innes AM, Disability Discrimination Commissioner

Ms Megan Mitchell, National Children’s Commissioner

Ms Padma Raman, Executive Director

Mr David Richards, Chief Financial Officer

The Hon. Susan Ryan AO, Age Discrimination Commissioner

Dr Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner

Mr Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner

Australian Institute of Criminology

Dr Adam Tomison, Director and Chief Executive

Mr Brian Russell, Acting Deputy Director, Corporate and Chief Finance Officer

Australian Law Reform Commission

Professor Rosalind Croucher, President

Australian National Maritime Museum

Mr Frank Shapter, Chief Finance Officer

Mr Peter Rout, Assistant Director, Operations

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation

Mr David Irvine, Director-General of Security

Ms Kerri Hartland, Deputy Director-General

Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre

Mr John Schmidt, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Alf Mazzitelli, Chief Finance Officer

Ms Liz Atkins, Executive General Manager, Corporate

Mr Peter Clark, Executive General Manager, Operations

Bundanon Trust

Ms Deborah Ely, Chief Executive Officer

Mr Richard Montgomery, Chief Operating Officer

Classification Board

Ms Lesley O’Brien, Director

Ms Margaret Anderson, Deputy Director

Ms Victoria Rubensohn, Convenor

Copyright Agency Limited

Mr Sandy Grant, Chair

Mr Murray St Leger, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Caroline Morgan, General Manager

Ms Libby Baulch, Policy Director

Mr Jim Alexander, Public Affairs and International Director, Creative Partnerships Australia

Ms Fiona Menzies, Chief Executive Officer


Mr Doug Smith, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Yvette Whittaker, Chief Financial Officer

Mr Matt Jones, Chief Information Officer

Family Court of Australia and Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Mr Richard Foster PSM, Chief Executive Officer, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Mr Steve Agnew, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Mr Grahame Harriott, Chief Finance Officer, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Mr Christopher Spink, Acting Principal Registrar, Family Court and Federal Circuit Court of Australia

Federal Court of Australia

Mr Warwick Soden, Registrar/Chief Executive

Mr Gordon Foster, Executive Director

Mr Peter Bowen, Chief Financial Officer

High Court of Australia

Mr Andrew Phelan, Chief Executive and Principal Registrar

Mr Carolyn Rogers, Senior Registrar

Mr Ben Wickham, Senior Executive and Deputy Registrar

Mr Jeff Smart, Manager, Corporate Services

Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House

Ms Daryl Karp, Director

Mr Andrew Harper, Deputy Director, Business Operations and Heritage

Mr Steven Fox, Deputy Director, Audience Programs and Partnerships

National Archives of Australia

Mr David Fricker, Director-General

Mr Lennard Marsden, Assistant Director-General, Executive and Information Services Branch

Ms Cheryl Watson, Assistant Director-General, Corporate Services Branch

Mr Craig Maconachie, Director, Finance, Corporate Services Branch

National Film and Sound Archive of Australia

Mr Michael Loebenstein, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Denise Cardrew-Hall, Chief Financial Officer

National Gallery of Australia

Mr David Perceval, Assistant Director, Administration

Mr Adam Worrall, Assistant Director, Exhibitions and Collection Services

Mr Simon Elliot, Assistant Director, Curatorial and Educations Services

National Library of Australia

Ms Anne-Marie Schwirtlich, Director-General

Mr Gerry Linehan, Assistant Director-General, Corporate Services

National Museum of Australia

Dr Mathew Trinca, Acting Director

Mr Stephen Delaney, Acting Chief Operating Officer

National Native Tribunal

Ms Stephanie Fryer-Smith, Registrar

Mr Liam Harding, Acting Deputy Registrar, Operations East

National Portrait Gallery of Australia

Mr Angus Trumble, Director

National Film, Television and Radio School

Ms Sandra Levy, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Anne Browne, Director, Corporate and Production Services

Office of the Australian Information Commissioner

Professor John McMillan, Australian Information Commissioner

Dr James Popple, Freedom of Information Commissioner

Mr Timothy Pilgrim, Privacy Commissioner

Ms Alison Leonard, Assistant Commissioner, Corporate Support and Communication

Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Mr Robert Bromwich SC, Director of Public Prosecutions

Ms Stela Walker, Chief Corporate Officer

Office of Parliamentary Counsel

Mr Peter Quiggin PSM, First Parliamentary Counsel

Mr John Leahy PSM, SC, Principal Legislative Counsel

Ms Susan McNeilly, General Manager and Chief Finance Officer

Screen Australia

Mr Graeme Mason, Chief Executive Officer

Ms Fiona Cameron, Chief Operating Officer

Mr Richard Nankivell, Chief Financial Officer

Committee met at 09:01

CHAIR ( Senator Ian Macdonald ): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee budget estimates for 2014-15. Today we are dealing with the Attorney-General's Department and I welcome the Attorney, Senator Brandis, and Mr Wilkins, the secretary of the department and his team.

The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of the proposed expenditure for 2014-15 for the portfolio of Attorney-General. These are budget estimates proceedings. The agencies to be heard from during the day's estimates are from both the Attorney-General's portfolio. The committee has set Friday, 25 July as the date by which answers to questions on notice are to be returned. The committee has also decided that written questions on notice should be provided to the secretariat by close of business on Friday, 13 June 2014.

Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice. All of the witnesses appearing today are aware of parliamentary privilege, so I will not repeat that. The rules are well known, but if anyone has any problems, we can go through them at the time.

Any questions going to the operations or financial positions of departments and agencies which are seeking funding in estimates are relevant questions for the purposes of estimates hearings, so determined the Senate by resolution in 1999. I remind officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided for that. I think they have done that in relation to national security matters and some others.

The Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy but should be given an opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009 specifying the process by which a claim for public interest immunity should be raised. If that occurs, I will go into that in more detail. It has been my practice to try and give everyone a fair opportunity.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

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

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

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

(1) If:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

(Extract, Senate Standing Orders, pp 124-125)


CHAIR: We are dealing with the arts until 11 o'clock. We will start with program 2. Does the minister or the secretary have an opening statement?

Senator Brandis: No.

Mr Wilkins : No.

Senator SINGH: I want to talk about the cuts to the budget in the Arts portfolio. I understand it is around $87.1 million. Is that correct?

Senator Brandis: No. Over the forward estimates, the reduction in funding is about 3.2 per cent.

Senator SINGH: But the quantum—the amount—is $87.1 million?

Senator Brandis: I am not sure what total you are referring to. What total are you referring to?

Senator SINGH: Where in the budget papers does it show the cut to the arts budget?

Senator Brandis: The budget papers show agency resourcing. I am not here to guide you through the budget papers. You can read them for yourself.

Senator SINGH: No—I am here to ask questions and the department usually answers them, but, Senator Brandis, you seem to like answering a lot of them yourself.

Senator Brandis: I try to be as helpful as possible.

Senator SINGH: Let's start by focusing on the cut to the budget. Are you aware of an open letter from some 90 of Australia's most distinguished authors and leaders of the arts community to the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and to you, Minister Brandis or, protesting about the cuts to the arts in the budget, especially the cut to the Australia Council?

Senator Brandis: I am aware of a letter—we are probably talking about the same document—signed by 88 people, which makes some very extravagant claims and many incorrect statements, as a matter of fact. If you happen to have a copy, Senator, I will take you through it. Rather than asking me questions in the abstract about a document, if you would care to share the document with me I will take you through it and point out to you the errors that are made.

Senator SINGH: I am asking about the cuts to the budget and whether you are aware of this letter. You said you are aware of it.

Senator Brandis: I have read it.

Senator SINGH: Are you going to respond that letter?

Senator Brandis: I have wondered about how I should deal with that letter. We are, of course, talking about it now. I make this point while a copy of the letter is being fetched: the cuts to the arts budget over the forward estimates are about 3.2 per cent. Given the sacrifices that other areas of the budget have made, that is a very modest sacrifice to be made. I am sure that you are as devoted to the arts as we all are. It would have been nice to have more money to spend, but, as you know, Senator, the government of which you were a member left the country in the greatest financial mess in its history, with public debt trending to $667 billion, and there just is not as much money to spend on the arts as on other things as we would like to see. Frankly—and this is a point the Prime Minister made in Sydney on Friday night at the Australian Book Industry Awards—the arts have done particularly well out of this budget given the circumstances. The reductions in arts funding over the forward estimates have been more modest than most areas of the budget have been expected to offer. Where economies have been made, we were very careful to ensure that those economies were made in areas where there had in fact been underspends, so that programs to which the funding was not committed were looked to first to provide those savings. In relation to the largest—

Senator SINGH: I found the budget paper, by the way. It is page 55 in Budget Paper No. 2.

Senator Brandis: Thank you.

Senator SINGH: On top of that letter, I would like to know whether you are aware of the comments of the former head of the Australia Council and the Sydney Opera House, Michael Lynch, on 16 May this year. He said there was no justification for cutting arts funding. I quote. He said:

It's cultural vandalism ... They're silly cuts without any real justification other than ideological, its dislike for the cultural sector.

That is quite—

Senator Brandis: It is very strong language.

Senator SINGH: Very strong language, indeed.

CHAIR: Before we go too much further, does anyone have any objection to the media taking photographs? Is everyone happy? You are happy on that side, Senator Brandis?

Senator Brandis: Yes, I am. Senator Singh, one question at a time. First of all, you quoted a figure to me and you directed me to page 55 of Budget Paper No. 2. I have Budget Paper No. 2 open at page 55. Where on page 55?

Senator SINGH: 'Arts programmes—reduced funding', Minister.

Senator Brandis: Yes. That is over four years.

Senator SINGH: 'Arts programmes—reduced funding'.

Senator Brandis: That is right. Those are savings of $87.1 million—

Senator SINGH: That is right. That is what I told you about 10 minutes ago.

Senator Brandis: Senator Singh, please do not interrupt me, because I was going to—

Senator SINGH: I am trying to help you, Minister.

Senator Brandis: I was going to read to you the description of that measure because you left out some very relevant words. This is what it says: 'The government will achieve savings of $87.1 million over four years by reducing uncommitted funding to arts programs administered by the Attorney-General's Department, the Australia Council and Screen Australia.'

'Uncommitted funding'—that is, funding that the relevant bodies, in particular the Australia Council, had not been called upon by the relevant participants in the program to allocate. The point I was trying to make to you before, if you had cared to listen to the answer, is that in finding savings from the arts budget, and nobody disputes there are savings from the arts budget, we were very careful in collaboration with the Australia Council to identify those programs, many of them set up by the previous government, from which funding had not been committed because there was not demand for the programs.

When the Australia Council comes to the table later in the morning, you may care to ask Mr Grybowski about the very careful process we went through to find those savings in areas that would not affect in particular the arts public. If I may identify one important matter. The largest area of funding, and it represents about half the Australia Council's budget, is the funding to the Australian major performing arts companies, the 28 companies that constitute the main arts companies in Australia: Opera Australia, the Australian Ballet, the various state symphony orchestras, the various state theatre companies, Bangarra, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, all the great arts companies—

Senator SINGH: I am not interested in what you are funding; I am interested in what you are cutting funding from—the Australia Council and Screen Australia from which there is high demand for their programs. So I completely refute your answer. This is about Senate estimates.

Senator Brandis: I haven't—Mr Chair—

Senator SINGH: This is about Senate estimates and you have a style, Minister, of giving outlandish, long answers. You are in a great privileged position to have your voice broadcast and your views broadcast as often as you like. This is Senate estimates.

CHAIR: Senator Singh, you have another five minutes, so let's not have lectures about conduct.

Senator MARSHALL: Yesterday, Chair, you gave time for questions and answers and not opportunities for people to make speeches.

Senator SINGH: Exactly.

Senator MARSHALL: That is all that minister has done. He has avoided the question and he has made a speech—

Senator Brandis: I am explaining.

Senator MARSHALL: and you should bring him to order.

CHAIR: Let's start again. What is the question?

Senator SINGH: I am waiting to ask my next question.

Senator Brandis: I have not finished answering your last question.

Senator SINGH: You claim you haven't; I claim you have.

CHAIR: Senator Brandis, can I suggest you ignore the last question now. Senator Singh has priority for the next question.

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Chair.

Senator Brandis: Senator Singh you are not giving me the opportunity to answer—

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Chair!

Senator Brandis: the assertion you have put to me—

Senator SINGH: Chair, he is doing it again. You need to call him to order or this will go on all day.

Senator Brandis: which I am in a perfectly good position—

Senator SINGH: He is filibustering and giving outlandish answers.

Senator Brandis: to respond to if I had the opportunity.

Senator SINGH: We have limited time for the arts.

CHAIR: No, we do not want the answer now. Senator Singh, please be precise with your question—

Senator SINGH: I am being precise.

CHAIR: so the minister can be precise with his answer. Next question.

Senator Brandis: By the way, Senator Singh, I now have a copy of the letter if you want to ask me about that.

Senator SINGH: Mr Wilkins, given the value of the arts sector to our economy and its value in cultural terms, contributing as it does tens of billions of dollars to our GDP, was a full assessment of the economic impacts of these cuts to the sector undertaken before the funding cut was decided?

Mr Wilkins : I am not sure what you mean by a full analysis.

Senator SINGH: A full assessment of the economic impact.

Mr Wilkins : Certainly there was an attempt to minimise any impact, as the minister has just said. This is a total budget of $2.8 billion over four years and we are talking about $87 million, and we are looking at areas in which we can minimise the impact. So to that extent, yes, there was an assessment done of where one would do least harm.

Senator SINGH: Are you able to provide a copy of the assessment that was done to the committee? Do you have any information or details?

Mr Wilkins : No, because that was done within the context of the ERC deliberations. I should re-emphasise the point that the minister made: looking at uncommitted funding was a very important component of that. We were looking at funds where you were not taking money away from activities that were already happening or from people who were already doing work in the area but rather were trying to target funds that were not committed at that stage.

Senator Brandis: In fact, there was no reduction to any committed funding. I think that is an important point.

Senator SINGH: I referred to Mr Lynch's quote before outlining that it is cultural vandalism—

Senator Brandis: I do not agree with that statement.

Senator SINGH: what has occurred with the cuts to the Australia Council and Screen Australia in this arts budget. Mr Lynch also pointed out that when in opposition—

CHAIR: Do you have a question?

Senator SINGH: Yes, this is a question.

CHAIR: This is one of those statements—

Senator SINGH: This is a question, Chair. Minister, you supported the Australia Council when you were in opposition and then you did not tell the Australian people that you intended to cut funding if you won office.

CHAIR: What is the question, please?

Senator SINGH: Can you explain to the committee why you did not come clean with the Australian people before the election and tell them your plan to attack funding for the arts?

CHAIR: You have opened it up for Senator Brandis, but you have asked the question.

Senator Brandis: That is an open-ended question—

Senator SINGH: No, it is not open-ended.

Senator Brandis: and therefore you must expect a very open-ended answer.

Senator SINGH: No, I do not; I expect a proper answer.

Senator Brandis: You will get a proper answer. The coalition in this budget was given a job to do by the Australian people and that was to repair the ruin in which your side of politics left Australia's public finances. In the six years the Labor Party was in government public debt in this country escalated from zero per cent—

Senator SINGH: We are talking about the Australia Council. We are talking about your support for the Australia Council.

Senator Brandis: You have asked me why—

Senator SINGH: You cannot call yourself the most generous arts minister anymore.

CHAIR: Senator Singh, if you are going to interrupt the minister during his answer you are not going to get anywhere.

Senator MARSHALL: The question was—

CHAIR: She asked for an explanation of why Mr Abbott should not be held to his promise or something like that.

Senator SINGH: No. It was about the Australia Council.

Senator Brandis: If you are going to ask these vague, open-ended questions—

Senator SINGH: No, it was not vague and open-ended.

Senator Brandis: you have to listen to the answer. I have not even begun answering your question.

Senator MARSHALL: It does not give you an opportunity to talk about things that are completely irrelevant.

Senator Brandis: Senator Singh, in six years public debt in this country went from zero per cent of GDP to 26 per cent of GDP, the highest rate of growth of public debt in the OECD and the highest level of debt by a factor of many times—and that was after only six years. I will be frank with you, Senator Singh; there is not the amount of money to spend on the arts in 2014 that there was in 2007 when last I was in the portfolio. In 2007, after 11 years of prudent economic management by the Howard government, spending on the arts had increased by 65.8 per cent. That was the cultural dividend of good budgets and good economic management. After six years of ruinous economic management, there is less money to spend because the country is in an unprecedentedly indebted state. In this budget we were able to quarantine savings from the arts budget to 3.2 per cent which, relative to the rest of the budget, is a very modest sacrifice indeed.

Senator MARSHALL: It could have been worse—that is your argument?

Senator Brandis: It could have been a lot worse. For anyone, in these circumstances, to describe a reduction of 3.2 per cent in arts funding as vandalism is a gross overstatement.

Senator SINGH: I have questions for Creative Partnerships Australia. I am not quite sure how we want to proceed with that because it does relate specifically to Ms Menzies' answers last time.

Senator Brandis: You can put them on notice.

CHAIR: You can ask them now.

Senator SINGH: But I do not know—

Senator Brandis: You can ask about Creative Partnerships Australia and I, Mr Wilkins or other officers will answer as best we can. But I should warn you that, because Ms Menzies is not here, it may be a more useful use of your time not to pursue that now.

Senator SINGH: I have some questions on the Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund advisory panel. What was the process for the appointment of board members to the Centenary of Anzac culture advisory board? Also, were there any statutory guidelines for the appointment?

Senator Brandis: There were no statutory guidelines as such. This was a board that was an initiative of the government. The members of the board were ultimately chosen by me in discussion with leading individuals within the field and in discussion with the ministry.

Senator SINGH: So the process for appointment was that you hand-picked them.

Senator Brandis: The government chose the members of this board, yes.

Senator SINGH: Were there any criteria that the candidates were assessed against?

Senator Brandis: Yes.

Senator SINGH: So the department provided you with a list of—

Senator Brandis: No. There were criteria. The criterion was suitability. We wanted to find the best people.

Senator SINGH: How are the board remunerated?

Mr Lovelock : The members of the panel are not remunerated.

Senator SINGH: Do they get any entitlements? Is their international travel or domestic travel included?

Mr Lovelock : The chair is paid a fee. I would need to take on notice each classification of the Remuneration Tribunal that fees are paid under. Included in the package is international travel associated with managing relationships in order to deliver the fund.

Senator SINGH: There are two former senior Liberal politicians on the board; is that correct?

Senator Brandis: Who do you mean?

Senator SINGH: How about we get a list of the names of the board members.

Senator Brandis: You said there were two former Liberal politicians. Who are they? Tell me who you are referring to.

Senator SINGH: No, I ask the questions, Minister. You answer them.

Senator Brandis: Okay. But tell me who you are talking about because—

Senator SINGH: Mr Lovelock, could you please give us the names of the board members.

Mr Lovelock : Wesley Enoch, Josephine Ridge, Brendan Nelson of the War Memorial—

Senator SINGH: Brendan Nelson.

Mr Lovelock : Rod Kemp.

Senator SINGH: Rod Kemp.

CHAIR: Is that the Brendan Nelson who was appointed by the Labor government—

Senator MARSHALL: Senator Singh should not get an answer to a straightforward question; is that your position, Chair?

CHAIR: No. I am just clarifying who the board members are.

Senator MARSHALL: Maybe you could do that in your time.

Mr Lovelock : Ben Quilty and Nicholas Heyward.

Senator SINGH: That is the total number?

Mr Lovelock : Sorry, Jonathan Mills is the chair of that panel. He has been appointed as the creative adviser of that panel as well. So Jonathan Mills is a member of that panel as well.

CHAIR: Thank you. Any other questions from Senator Singh might go on notice.

Senator WRIGHT: My first questions are generally about cuts to arts programs, noting the maintaining of funding for major performing arts organisations. I am interested in looking at what the consequences therefore might be for individual artists and smaller arts organisations. Certainly some senior members of the arts community have reflected that they believe that these cuts and the emphasis on maintaining funding for the major arts organisations will result in fewer and smaller grants to individual artists and cuts to small arts organisations. Is that the result that we will be seeing?

Senator Brandis: It may be that that question is best asked of the Australia Council, but I can make the general observation that, in finding the savings that all departments were required to find, one of the priorities the government adopted and one of the priorities I chose was to quarantine from any reduction in funding the major performing arts companies. I was in the middle of explaining why to Senator Singh when I was interrupted. Perhaps I could finish that answer. It has always seemed to me, Senator Wright, that in discussions of arts policy the one stakeholder that is too often either forgotten about or neglected is the audience. One of the priorities that I announced in the election campaign for arts policy was enhancing the accessibility to Australian audiences of the best of Australian performing and visual arts. The judgement I made was that the great performing arts companies of this country—the 28 that constitute the major Australian performing arts companies—should be spared because, more than any other element of arts funding, they are the companies that give pleasure to large Australian audiences both in capital cities and in regional areas. If you quarantine the largest part of the pie—it is about half the Australia Council's outlay—then, if there are economies, they are going to be felt in other parts of the pie.

Senator WRIGHT: I would then like to tease out what the consequences of those will be. I hear your thinking about that. Given the concentration of large arts bodies in cities and the reliance of regional communities on individual artists and small arts groups, which contribute to civil society and actually help foster the arts in smaller communities and then arguably mean that those communities are more receptive to the idea of the art that is provided by the larger performing arts groups and so on, a concern has been put to me that these cuts will disproportionately affect regional Australia.

Senator Brandis: If that concern exists, it is misplaced because another of the areas of the Australia Council's budget which was quarantined was regional arts funding. As I was trying to explain to Senator Singh, we were required to find savings, as every department was, and we prioritised. As I have explained to you—and I will not repeat myself—one of the areas we quarantined was the major performing arts companies. Another of the areas we quarantined was regional arts funding through the Australia Council. So there was no reduction in regional arts funding through the Australia Council. If your concern is that the major performing arts companies, almost all of which—

Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. I think that answers my question. I have a few other bits I want to get to and I do not want to run out of time. These questions relate to the Prime Minister's Literary Awards. They are pretty straightforward factual questions. How many people are on the panel of judges for that?

Senator Brandis: There are three panels of five people each.

Senator WRIGHT: What criteria were used to select the panels?

Senator Brandis: Suitability.

Senator WRIGHT: Who made the decisions about who was going to be on the panels?

Senator Brandis: These are the Prime Minister's Literary Awards. So I think you can regard them as being ultimately the Prime Minister's decisions. But in a practical sense what happened is that the Prime Minister and I had a couple of conversations. I said to him: 'Now, you know that you have got these literary awards? We need to talk about who would be good people to appoint to them.' And the Prime Minister had some ideas. I think it is fair to say that he relied upon me and those who advise me to provide most of the names, and that is the way in which they were chosen.

Senator WRIGHT: You said the criterion was 'suitability', which is a very general concept, so I would like to unpack that a little bit. Was there any guideline or requirement about looking at diversity on the panel?

Senator Brandis: Yes, there was—and I am so pleased that you asked that question, Senator Wright! There was absolutely a concern about diversity and, in particular, about diversity of opinion. The awards were started by the Labor government in 2008. I reviewed the members of the panels that had been constituted over the previous years since 2008. I have a list of them here, in fact. And do you know what, Senator? I was unable to identify a single person—not one—in all those years whose views or outlook I would describe as being conservative or even liberal democratic—not one. So one of the things that I wanted to do was to ensure that there was a diversity of opinion among those panels and that, for the first time, people of more conservative or more liberal democratic views should be included, especially—importantly—in the non-fiction and history section. That is why on the non-fiction and history section an attempt was made, for the first time, to have a couple of people who were not of the left. But we wanted balanced panels. The chair of the non-fiction and history panel, Gerard Henderson, is a very well-known author and commentator whose views I think would be regarded, uncontroversially, as conservative. The chair of the fiction and poetry panel is Ms Louise Adler, a person who proudly and accurately describes herself as a woman of the left. And the chairman of the children's panel is a person for whom I would not have the faintest idea of what their views are. So, we certainly did look for diversity, particularly diversity of thought, and I think we have achieved that.

Senator WRIGHT: When and how were former judges notified that they were no longer on the panel?

Senator Brandis: I believe they were notified by the department.

Senator WRIGHT: Then I might ask the department about that.

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

Senator WRIGHT: I am interested in the date, the manner of communication of that, the timing—you would not be surprised that there has been some controversy about it. Certainly what I am aware of from the media is that—

Ms Basser : No commitments had been made to any people.

Senator WRIGHT: I am just interested in knowing at what point people who may have been under a reasonable apprehension that they may be on the panel were advised that they were not on the panel.

Senator Brandis: They would not be, though, because, if you look at the list of members of the panels from 2008 to 2009, in most cases people have only served for one term. For example, in 2008 the non-fiction panel was Hilary Charlesworth, Sally Morgan and John Doyle. In 2009 that panel was Phillip Adams, Peter Rose and Professor Joan Beaumont. In 2010 that panel was Brian Johns, Colin Steele and Dr Faye Sutherland. So, usually these appointments in the past have been for only one year at a time. If the point of your question is that members of the 2013 panel might have had an expectation they would be reappointed, then that is not the way it has worked before now.

Senator WRIGHT: I can go back and look at the transcript of what you have just said in in terms of those. And I hear what you are saying, that, generally, it has been a one-term appointment.

Senator Brandis: It has been.

Senator WRIGHT: Has that been across the panels? Which panels were you referring to there?

Senator Brandis: I think it has been the case generally, although not exclusively. For example, in 2008, 2009 and 2010, Professor Peter Pierce was the chair of the fiction panel in each of those years. But the rest of the panel changed. There are a couple of people who we have reappointed to the children and young adults panel who were members of the 2013 panel. The practice of by and large refreshing the panels each year, but retaining a couple of the same people, which has been the case ever since these awards have existed, has been observed again this year.

Senator WRIGHT: Who were the existing members who were reappointed?

Senator Brandis: There are two of the children and young adults members, I believe. I am just asking for a list of the 2013 panel members. Certainly, everybody on the fiction and poetry panel is new. Everybody on the non-fiction and history panel is new. But I think I am right in saying that two of the members of the children and young adults panel were reappointed—let me check that; I will take it on notice to make sure that I am right in saying that. Can I, by the way, take the opportunity to point out that one of the people who I am very proud to have been able to recruit to the fiction and poetry panel is Mr Les Murray. With all respect to previous panellists, in previous years, I do not think so illustrious a person as Les Murray, Australia's greatest contemporary poet, has ever served on this panel before.

Senator WRIGHT: On notice then—for the sake of getting it in one place—over the last four years, who were the panel members of each of the panels?

Senator EDWARDS: I was interested in the exchange earlier, theatrical as it was, between Senator Singh and you. I am somewhat confused. Could you give me a fulsome explanation in relation to the open letter which was being referred to, because I am not sure that I have got all the facts.

Senator Brandis: I did read that letter. I am sure that Senator Singh and I were referring to the same letter. In fact it is signed by 88 people who describe themselves as artists. There are quite some well-known names like Robert Drewe, the author; there are other people who signed that letter who describe themselves as writers—Gideon Hague, the cricket writer, has put his name on the letter. I am not sure if being a cricket writer constitutes being an artist, but I suppose if writing is an art then that particular cricket writer can be regarded as an artist. I must confess that most of the names were obscure to me, though many of them are well-known. What is notable about the letter is that none of the 88 signatories, not one, come from a major arts company or a major arts institution. They are individual writers—most of them are writers—or editors of certain literary magazines, although not Quadrant, the most famous of the Australian literary magazines.

Senator SINGH: What about Michael Lynch?

Senator Brandis: I understand there are some well-known names. Most of the names are not particularly well-known. But nobody from a major arts institution from this country has put their signature to that letter. May I take you through some of the claims that have been made, just to illustrate. The authors of the letter said that the decrease in funding and federal support will be devastating to the arts in this country and it will impoverish Australian culture and society. You may think that to describe a 3.2per cent reduction in budget in straitened fiscal circumstances as devastating and liable to impoverish the culture of the country takes a rather extravagant and at the same time rather pessimistic view of the health of Australia's creative sector. What troubles me most about the letter is that many of the claims in it are simply factually wrong and reflect an ignorance of the way Australian arts funding works. For example, the authors say this:

Cutting the support the Australia Council offers will mean the loss of libraries, galleries, museums, concerts, regional tours, writing centres, and community and regional arts centres.

That is the claim made in the letter.

Senator EDWARDS: Is that true?

Senator Brandis: No, it is not true. The libraries that are supported through the arts budget are supported by the ministry. The principal galleries that are supported are supported through the ministry, not the Australia Council. The same goes for museums. In relation to concerts, as I have said before, the major performing arts companies—the major symphony orchestras and chamber orchestras—have had their funding quarantined. With regional tours, the regional touring budget has been quarantined. With writing centres—I do not know about that. With community and regional arts centres, as I said to you a moment ago, the regional arts budget has been quarantined.

The authors of the letter go on to say that they are particularly worried about the reduction in funding of regional arts. I want to make you aware that, as I have said before, the funding of regional arts has been quarantined in this budget. There has been no reduction. But, under the previous Labor government, there was a reduction of about two-thirds in the budget to Regional Arts Australia. Why is a reduction in overall funding of 3.2 per cent 'devastating' but a reduction over six years of two-thirds of the budget to Regional Arts Australia regarded by these 88 signatories as not even worthy of comment?

Senator EDWARDS: So the letter is based on a false premise?

Senator Brandis: The letter has two vices. One is that the critique that is offered is extravagant and misleading. To describe a 3.2 per cent reduction in funding, most of which has been confined to uncommitted funds, in which the big arts priorities, the major performing arts companies, have been completely quarantined; in which regional touring has been completely quarantined; and in which there have actually been some new spends—on the Australian Ballet School residence, a new program, for example—is an impossible use of the English language. It just goes to show how self-indulgent some people are—if they feel that a 3.2 per cent reduction is a devastation.

Secondly, the argument of the letter is based on a series of factual errors which exhibit an ignorance on the part of those who put their names to this letter about where the arts dollar is spent and by whom it is spent. With your consent, Senator Edwards, I might—

Senator EDWARDS: I would appreciate it, because 88 people have essentially—

Senator Brandis: This is vibrant sector. It has been well supported by coalition governments, as I said before. When the country was in good economic health during the Howard government, money was lavished on the arts in a way that it has never been before by any government, Labor or Liberal. There was an increase of 65.8 per cent over 11 years, more than twice the rate of inflation.

Senator EDWARDS: And I hear that from the community.

Senator Brandis: Even in these straitened times, the major priorities of the arts budget—the major companies, the regional touring programs—have been quarantined entirely. In fact, the Prime Minister—I hope cheekily—on Friday night said to the Australian Book Industry Awards dinner that, because of my advocacy in protecting the arts from savage budget cuts, I had become deeply unpopular among some of my colleagues. Judging by the way my friend Mr Hockey and my friend Senator Cormann look askance at me, I fear that may be true.

I think a more balanced comment comes from Louise Adler, who is the President of the Australian Publishers Association, a self-described woman of the Left. This is what she said last Friday:

Book people aren’t generally conservative in their voting preferences so credit is surely due to both the Prime Minister and Minister for the Arts for attending the Australian book industry’s “night of nights”.

…   …   …

If Tony Abbott’s legacy is to be known as the Prime Minister for Books, that can only benefit Australian writers and readers.

In fact, the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister for books. He is a published author. I am not aware of any other Australian Prime Minister who, prior to becoming Prime Minister, was a published author. Of the 19 members of the cabinet there are in fact five published authors, so we are very much a government that cares about writing, publishing and the arts in general, and that concern is reflected in the priorities revealed by the arts budget and the modesty of the cuts and the savings we have found.

Senator EDWARDS: Your predecessor has spoken about the Castlemaine State Festival. Could you explain to me the benefits of the Castlemaine State Festival? Can you give me some clarity around the comments made by the former Attorney-General and whether his assertions are correct? Has the funding of that festival over the last few years, perhaps for the last three or four years, been diminished?

Senator Brandis: Mr Dreyfus has criticised me in the last couple of days for reducing the funding of the Castlemaine State Festival. In fact, during the period of his government, funding of the Castlemaine State Festival was, between 2008 and 2012, the sum of some $75,000. Since I have been the arts minister the funding of the Castlemaine State Festival has been $523,520, and I can table a document illustrating the funding in the relevant years.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Brandis. That would be helpful. We now move on to the Australia Council.