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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
01/03/2018
Estimates
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

[09:04]

CHAIR: I warmly welcome Senator the Hon. Marise Payne, the Minister for Defence, representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Ms Frances Adamson, the secretary, and all officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Good morning, everybody. Minister, would you like to make an opening statement?

Senator Payne: No. Thank you very much, Madam Chair. Great to be back.

CHAIR: Secretary, would you like to make an opening statement?

Ms Adamson : Yes, I would. Thank you for the opportunity to make an opening statement. As the committee is aware, the Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment launched the 2017 Foreign policy white paper on 23 November last year. Our purpose was to chart a clear course for Australia at a time of rapid change.

The white paper was the result of a year of intensive work for the government, my department and the whole-of-government task force convened to produce it. We have distributed copies of the white paper to 6½ thousand people in Australia and overseas. In the week following the paper's launch, domestic and international media commentary on the white paper reached an estimated audience of 18.8 million. More than 55,000 people have accessed our 2017 Foreign policy white paper website. Here, we host not just the white paper text but also personal stories told through words, pictures and video content to highlight the many ways in which Australians in each of our states and territories engage with the world. This innovative new content complements the white paper's policy framework with stories of remarkable people making a difference, supporting Australia and helping to build prosperous and resilient societies in our region. I commend it to the committee.

The white paper—as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Bishop, has said—provides a framework for our interests, values and priorities at a time of uncertainty and change. It affirms that an outward-looking Australia, fully engaged with the world, is essential to our future prosperity and security. I think it's fair to say that the white paper's analysis of the challenges we face at a time of disruption and change met support—broad support—even if there is room, of course, for robust debate about specific foreign policy approaches.

The department is now working with partners across government and internationally to implement the white paper. The foreign affairs and trade, tourism and investment ministers will report on our progress to cabinet every six months. The whole-of-government White Paper Board—which guided the development of the white paper throughout 2017—continues to meet regularly to oversee implementation.

I have revised the department's organisational structure and allocated our resources to align with the strategic direction and priorities of the white paper. I am pleased to table copies of our new organisational chart, reflecting this structure. Five newly established groups headed by deputy secretaries mirror the white paper's priorities and harness the services and capabilities required for their effective implementation. The establishment of a United States and Indo-Pacific Strategy Division gives us stronger focus and resources to deliver our regional agenda.

We are reviewing how we can best build Australia's soft power. The Diplomatic Academy—now fully operational—is giving our staff the modern skills and capabilities they need to support ambitious and integrated Australian foreign, trade and development policies. Four years after integration, we have strengthened our approach to evaluations and knowledge management, and established a new Aid Governance Board to provide clear strategic oversight of the aid budget and to help ensure its alignment with the white paper.

I released a new departmental workforce strategy outlining the workforce management settings to build the skills of our staff. This year, I look to place particular emphasis on continuing to grow our aid management expertise through considered workforce planning. And in the tight budgetary environment we are using more efficient means and cost-effective technologies to support our overseas engagement, including as we expand our diplomatic network.

From this strong base, the department is helping government bring the white paper to life. Without going through all five of the white paper's priorities, I thought it might be helpful if I highlighted some of the work we're doing. In the Indo-Pacific, we are acting to promote an inclusive, open and prosperous region in which the rights of all states are respected. For example, the department is working to encourage the strongest possible economic and security engagement by the United States in the region. Already this year we have supported visits to the United States by the Prime Minister, the foreign minister and the trade, tourism and investment minister. Following the Prime Minister's visit, we will work with the United States administration to promote policies that support shared objectives in our white paper and the US national security and national defense strategies.

At the same time, the department is advancing our comprehensive strategic partnership with China. Not only is China our largest trading partner, but our societies are increasingly connected, including through flows of migrants, students and visitors. While competition in the region is increasing, there must also remain space for cooperation. We continue to place priority on positive and active engagement with China. The quality of discussion at the Australia-China High-Level Dialogue held in late November, co-chaired by former Prime Minister John Howard and former Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, demonstrates the value of such forums. Clearly there are some points of contention in this relationship, and channels like this are helpful in managing these.

The government is lifting the ambition of Australia's engagement with major Indo-Pacific democracies, with Japan, Indonesia, India and the Republic of Korea. These countries are of first-order importance to Australia—

Senator MOORE: Excuse me; I do apologise for interrupting. We really appreciate your opening statement, but I was just wondering, because we have a really tight schedule, if it was possible for you to just table it?

Ms Adamson : Yes, I'm very happy to table that.

Senator MOORE: I'm very sorry. I didn't realise until after you'd started that it was such a significant opening statement. It is extraordinarily valuable and—

Senator Payne: The white paper kind of necessitates that.

Ms Adamson : That was the reason I wanted to do it: the white paper has been published, the department has been restructured since we last met, and I wanted to do the committee the courtesy of explaining both. But I'm happy—

Senator MOORE: I do not want to seem discourteous—I really want to say that. I can assure you that I would expect that every person here has read that white paper from cover to cover, so you'll be able to test us out during today.

CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Moore. Secretary, we do greatly appreciate the opening statement and the fact that you have gone to a lot of effort to provide a comprehensive opening. If you were able to shorten it a little bit—

Ms Adamson : Is it possible to incorporate in the record the opening statement?

CHAIR: Absolutely, it is.

Ms Adamson : If you're happy to do that, that sounds like a very sensible way forward.

CHAIR: Is it the wish of the committee that the document be incorporated in the transcript of evidence? There being no objection, it is so ordered.

The document read as follows

STATEMENT TO THE SENATE FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE LEGISLATION COMMITTEE

ADDITIONAL BUDGET ESTIMATES—1 MARCH 2018

FRANCES ADAMSON, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE

Thank you Chair for the opportunity to make an opening statement.

As the Committee is aware, the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister launched the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper on 23 November last year.

Our purpose was to chart a clear course for Australia at a time of rapid change.

The White Paper was the result of a year of intensive work for the Government, my Department and the whole-of-government taskforce convened to produce it.

We have distributed copies of the White Paper to 6500 people in Australia and overseas.

In the week following the Paper's launch, domestic and international media commentary on the White Paper reached an estimated audience of 18.8 million.

More than 55,000 people have accessed our Foreign Policy White Paper website. Here we host not just the White Paper text, but also personal stories—told through words, pictures and video content—to highlight the many ways in which Australians in each of our states and territories engage with the world.

This innovative new content complements the White Paper's policy framework with stories of remarkable people making a difference—supporting Australia and helping to build prosperous and resilient societies in our region. I commend it to the Committee.

Implementation

The White Paper, as Foreign Minister Bishop has said, provides a framework for our interests, values and priorities at a time of uncertainty and change.

It affirms that an outward-looking Australia, fully engaged with the world, is essential to our future prosperity and security.

I think it fair to say that the White Paper's analysis of the challenges we face at a time of disruption and change met broad support, even if there is room, of course, for robust debate about specific policy approaches.

The Department is now working with partners across government and internationally to implement the White Paper.

The Foreign Affairs and Trade, Tourism and Investment Ministers will report on our progress to Cabinet every six months.

The whole-of-government White Paper Board, which guided the development of the White Paper throughout 2017, continues to meet regularly to oversee implementation.

I have revised the department's organisational structure and allocated our resources to align with the strategic direction and priorities of the White Paper. I am pleased to table copies of our new organisational chart, reflecting this structure.

Five newly-established groups headed by deputy secretaries mirror the White Paper's priorities and harness the services and capabilities required for their effective implementation.

The establishment of a United States and Indo-Pacific Strategy Division gives us stronger focus and resources to deliver our regional agenda.

We are reviewing how we can best build Australia's soft power.

The Diplomatic Academy, now fully operational, is giving our staff the modern skills and capabilities they need to support ambitious and integrated Australian foreign, trade and development policies.

Four years after integration, we have strengthened our approach to evaluations and knowledge management and established a new Aid Governance Board to provide clear strategic oversight of the aid budget and help ensure its alignment with the White Paper.

I released a new departmental Workforce Strategy outlining the workforce management settings to build the skills of our staff.

This year, I look to place particular emphasis on continuing to grow our aid management expertise through considered workforce planning.

And in a tight budgetary environment, we are using more efficient means and cost-effective technologies to support our overseas engagement, including as we expand our diplomatic network.

Our priorities

From this strong base, the Department is helping Government bring the White Paper to life.

Without going through all five of the White Paper's priorities, I thought it might be helpful if I highlighted some of the work we are doing.

In the Indo-Pacific, we are acting to promote an open, inclusive and prosperous region in which the rights of all states are respected.

For example, the Department is working to encourage the strongest possible economic and security engagement by the United States in the region.

Already this year, we have supported visits to the United States by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister.

Following the Prime Minister's visit, we will work with the United States Administration to promote policies that support shared objectives in our White Paper and the US National Security and National Defense strategies.

At the same time, the Department is advancing our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China.

Not only is China our largest trading partner, but our societies are increasingly connected, including through flows of migrants, students and visitors.

While competition in the region is increasing, there must also remain space for cooperation.

We continue to place priority on positive and active engagement with China. The quality of discussion at the Australia-China High-level Dialogue held in late November and co-chaired by former Prime Minister John Howard and former Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, demonstrated the value of such forums. Clearly there are some points of contention in this relationship, and channels like this are helpful in managing these.

The Government is lifting the ambition of Australia's engagement with major Indo-Pacific democracies: Japan, Indonesia, India and the Republic of Korea.

These countries are of first-order importance to Australia.

The Department will do more bilaterally and across these partnerships, including in small groups.

For example, the revived Quadrilateral Group—which includes Australia, India, Japan and the United States—demonstrates our commitment to bolster cooperation among these regional powers.

The department represented Australia late last year at a first meeting of the Quad, as it is known.

As competition for influence in Southeast Asia sharpens, the department is working to ensure Australia remains a leading economic, development and security partner for ASEAN and its members.

Together with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, for example, we are supporting the Prime Minister's historic ASEAN-Australia special Summit, which will be held later this month.

The Summit is a clear demonstration of our ambition for deep, distinctive and enduring ties with the countries of Southeast Asia.

In recent months, the Department has also worked intensively to support the Government's objective of regional trade and investment arrangements that increase growth, promote openness and help reduce strategic rivalry.

Our support for the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment as they worked successfully to conclude the TPP-11 agreement is an important example of this commitment.

The Department is working hard to deliver the White Paper's commitment to expand our network of free trade agreements and support a rules-based trading system.

By 2020, we aim to have FTAs with countries that account for more than 80 per cent of our trade.

In addition to the TPP-11, the Department has supported the recent conclusion, in record time, of a bilateral free trade agreement with Peru.

We are close to finalising an India Economic Strategy.

Working with others across Government, my Department is also stepping up our efforts to engage with Australian businesses, and to ensure community support for Australia's openness to trade, investment and skilled migration.

Finally, the Department is implementing the Government's step-change in Australia's engagement with the Pacific.

The step-up is a major policy initiative focussing on three priorities: stronger partnerships for economic growth; stronger partnerships for security; and stronger relationships between our people.

Australia's step up builds on and leverages our development assistance to the region of $1.1 billion this financial year.

The department is working to establish, with our Pacific partners, a new Australian Pacific Security College to deliver security and law enforcement training at the leadership level.

Working with other relevant government agencies, the Department is also expanding non-seasonal labour mobility opportunities through the Pacific Labour Scheme.

This will support economic growth in the Pacific while enabling Australian employers to address labour shortages.

We are building the infrastructure that will support economic growth, such as the telecommunications cable between Australia and PNG and the Solomon Islands.

Conclusion

Chair, the Prime Minister says in his introduction to the White Paper that: "we are meeting the challenges of an uncertain future with confidence, open to the world and its opportunities, while resolutely resisting threats to our way of life".

The White Paper sets a clear course, despite the many risks, for renewed ambition in our international engagement.

I have every reason to be confident as we move forward-with our plan.

Thank you again Chair. My colleagues and I am happy to respond to your questions.

CHAIR: Would you like to pick some points to conclude on?

Ms Adamson : I've talked about our priorities specifically—the Indo-Pacific; that's absolutely central. I also wanted to refer specifically, because our relationship with South-East Asia is so important, to the forthcoming ASEAN-Australia Special Summit, which will be held later this month. We're supporting the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in that. We've also been working on the TPP and, this evening, my colleague Justin Brown will be able to elaborate on that, should the committee wish us to do so. We're actively engaged in finalising the India Economic Strategy, and stepping up—I do want to make this point, because it's important—efforts to engage with Australian business and to ensure community support for Australia's openness to trade, investment and skilled migration. And I'm sure members of the committee will want to talk about the South Pacific. When we come to that, I would like to emphasise the government's step-change in our engagement with the South Pacific and the reasons for that. It goes not only to our foreign policy interests, but also to some domestic policies. I'm confident as we move forward with our plan. I'm always happy, as are my colleagues, to answer the committee's questions.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Secretary—a lot of great work in there by the department. Senator Gallacher.

Senator GALLACHER: You'll note that Senator Moore is the diplomatic one on this side of the table—Senator Wong has the call for the foreseeable future.

Senator WONG: Thanks—

Senator Payne: Don't we actually negotiate on that?

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that, Senator Gallacher.

Senator Payne: Some of us actually left this room at 11 o'clock last night!

Senator WONG: Can I start, Mr Wood, by getting the documents that we usually get in relation to aid? Is that all right?

Mr Wood : I'm happy to table the update to our aid program expenditure consistent with the format that we've provided previously.

Senator WONG: I'd appreciate that, thank you. I think we had a discussion last time, Mr Wood, about the number of programs that DFAT is responsible for. I think you told me about how you track expenditure against each of those programs. No? I'm sure I didn't dream this!

Mr Wood : No, you weren't dreaming about it.

Senator WONG: You never know!

Mr Wood : We've had discussions about contractors, I know, in the past. Is this about expenditure by program levels?

Senator WONG: Yes. I'd like to know all of the programs that DFAT has. I'd like a list of those.

Mr Wood : Sure.

Senator WONG: Usually the best way to do it is to look at how you budget. Presumably you're budgeting in accordance with the finance framework, and there'll be X number of programs, all of which have internal budget numbers. You may or may not wish to give me disaggregated—you might say, 'We don't give that out,' or whatever—but I'm actually more interested in the programs and the allocation at whatever level you can give me for each of those programs.

Mr Wood : Sure. Certainly, for the aid program, we can provide that consistent with the format in our aid budget summary, so you'd have a line for Indonesia—

Senator WONG: I'd like it for non-aid functions as well.

Mr Wood : Okay—from our departmental funding?

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Wood : We can certainly provide that on notice.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that. Thank you. I'll come back to those when we get copies of them. I want to have a discussion about aid to the Pacific and some recent public commentary about it. Is anyone at the table able to tell me how much aid we currently provide annually to the Pacific Island region?

Mr Sloper : Good morning, Senator.

Senator WONG: I'm sure you know everything—

Mr Sloper : I'm not sure of that—

Senator WONG: about the Pacific Island area.

Mr Sloper : but I might be able to answer your question. Can I just clarify: are you asking for all aid that flows to the Pacific, or bilateral and regional aid, because we can disaggregate that.

Senator WONG: Sorry, which two categories?

Mr Sloper : We report on both total aid flows that may go to the Pacific. In addition to that, we can break it down to the regional flows and also country flows. What I mean by that is we would have a bilateral program, and then there would be additional benefits to a particular country arising from global initiatives and some other initiatives—

Senator WONG: Right; so multilateral?

Mr Sloper : and we track all of that—

Senator WONG: No, I want to know how much we're giving.

Mr Sloper : There's a total—it's $1.1, year on year. I can give you the exact figure in just a minute.

Ms Adamson : Billion, that is.

Mr Sloper : Yes, $1.1 billion, I beg your pardon.

Senator WONG: I figured that! Unlike Mr Joyce, when he was in Finance, I try not to mix up my trillions, billions and millions—although, occasionally, one can misspeak.

Mr Wood : In our aid budget summary, we report a total of $1.0978 billion.

Senator WONG: Thank you. How do you define the region for that purpose—Pacific Island region?

Mr Sloper : It would be all members of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Senator WONG: Right—so not Timor-Leste?

Mr Sloper : It's from Port Moresby, or Papua New Guinea, eastwards. But it includes the North Pacific islands, which have a compact association with the United States.

Senator WONG: I'm not sure if your document does this, but a breakdown by individual nations will be provided in your document?

Mr Wood : We have that. The page reference is page 10 of our aid budget summary. We have that disaggregated by relevant countries and regions.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Can you confirm there's been no growth in nominal or real terms in ODA funding to Pacific nations over the past five years?

Mr Wood : We would have to take that on notice. I recall we have answered similar questions on notice. We might be able to come back on that question.

Senator WONG: Ms Adamson, I want to take you to some comments that Senator Fierravanti-Wells made—I think they were reported on 10 January. She's quoted as saying:

You've got the Pacific full of these useless buildings which nobody maintains … I've gone to the islands and you'll be driving along on some back road and all of a sudden you see this Chinese road crew building a road to nowhere and you think, 'Hmm, what's all that about?'

When did you, or DFAT, become aware of the minister's comments?

Ms Adamson : I became aware of the minister's comments when I arrived back in the country from leave that morning and opened The Australian.

Senator WONG: My question was also DFAT.

Ms Adamson : As I was on leave, at the time, I'd need to check with Mr Sloper.

Mr Sloper : I was also leave. My understanding is the department found out about those comments when they were published in the press.

Senator WONG: Before the minister did this interview, did she obtain any talking points from DFAT or DFAT's media unit or the relevant section of the department?

Mr Sloper : No. We provided Senator Fierravanti-Wells's office with some material for a possible article on Australia's Pacific engagement on 3 January, and that's consistent with the provisional material given to each office when they're thinking of doing articles.

Senator WONG: Can I have a copy of that material?

Mr Sloper : I don't have a copy with me. I can take that on notice, to determine if we can provide that.

Senator WONG: What does it go to?

Mr Sloper : The provisional material went to our engagement in the region.

Senator WONG: I presume it didn't include 'useless buildings and white elephants'?

Mr Sloper : No.

Senator WONG: Or 'roads to nowhere'?

Mr Sloper : No.

Senator WONG: Was there any advice in that briefing or otherwise, ahead of that interview, provided to the minister or her office recommending that she not make direct comments about the relationship between China's funding to the Pacific and related aid projects?

Mr Sloper : I'm not aware of any advice to that point. I can take it on notice to determine exactly what advice was provided.

Senator WONG: Subsequent to the minister's comments, there were some public responses from Pacific Island leaders. The Prime Minister of Samoa said, 'The minister's comments were harmful and insulting to the leaders of the Pacific.' The justice minister of Tonga described the attack as sad and suggested China was 'filling a gap left by Australia'. In addition to these public comments, can you tell me whether or not there were other diplomatic representations from Pacific Island nations consequent upon the minister's comments?

Mr Sloper : There are a range of responses across the region, largely positive commentary on the role of China as a donor in the region, including the one you mentioned. I'm not aware of any formal diplomatic representations on the issue. I can say it has been discussed with the foreign minister, as was reported in the press with Prime Minister Tuilaepa from Samoa.

Senator WONG: I'll come to that. You used the phrase 'formal diplomatic'?

Mr Sloper : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can we get the lexicon understood here? I'm sure these different things between protests and informal and formal mean something very significant to Foreign Affairs people, but to humble senators, we don't necessarily know all the categories. Why don't you explain to me what you mean by the use of various terms when you're describing interactions with representatives or leaders of other nations?

Mr Sloper : I'm not aware of individual governments making representations to us on that issue.

Ms Adamson : Nor would we necessarily expect them to.

Senator WONG: Can we go back to my lexicon question, first? Then we can come back.

Ms Adamson : Of course, we can.

Senator WONG: Give me a tute on this, Ms Adamson.

Ms Adamson : Senator, I would not presume to give you a tutorial on anything!

Senator WONG: I'm always happy to learn; you know that.

Ms Adamson : Taking the direct question that you asked, governments have a range of ways of conveying views to each other. Sometimes they do that publicly. Sometimes there is what one might call a formal demarche under instructions. A capital instructs the diplomats of their own country in another country to make formal representations to the other country. That normally means a face-to-face meeting in which the views are expressed. Occasionally, it can mean a telephone conversation. Both sides understand this to be a formal process, and normally both sides are very meticulous in their record keeping.

On other occasions—diplomats speak much the same way, I imagine, that senators do—something is reported in the newspaper. People talk about it. People express views on it. That is not a formal representation. I would just like to say, at this point, that, not unreasonably, Senator Fierravanti-Wells has expressed a wide range of views on aid to the South Pacific. She's regularly speaking on this subject. She travels frequently into the region. She is a huge supporter and a very active one in ensuring that aid to the region—whoever donates it—enhances the region's ability to be productive and doesn't contribute to fragile states. In fact, I believe there was an interview published with DFAT policy overnight, which covers, broadly, our views on that. A wide range of views was expressed. Of course, they will sometimes elicit comment. I think what is very clear is that the South Pacific nations very much appreciate Australian aid. They need aid from a wide variety of sources. We work cooperatively and collaboratively, and on occasions with China as well through our development cooperation partnership, including in PNG, where we have a trilateral anti-malaria program.

Senator WONG: So just going back: there are public iterations and there is formal demarche. When you say 'formal representations', that's a capital requested—'formal'.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: And 'informal' would be where you might have a head of mission or a member of the head of mission who would have a discussion with you but it's not formal in the sense you've described?

Ms Adamson : That's right.

Senator WONG: What would be 'informal'?

Ms Adamson : Normally, you do something under instructions, you would say 'under instructions, I am' or 'I have been instructed to tell you this or that.'

Senator WONG: Or you just say, 'Look, this is a bit of an issue'?

Ms Adamson : It could just be a comment. Diplomats talk about all sorts of things all the time, as you can imagine.

Senator WONG: I'm sure. When something is reported as a 'protest', is that generally the formal demarche that you described?

Ms Adamson : In my experience, things that are reported as protests are very often not. Media often doesn't understand the distinction.

Senator WONG: I will give you the opportunity, because there were things described as a protest.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can we go back to this, then? In addition to those two public comments, could you just remind me what your answer was to my question about other concerns as to the minister's comments being expressed by representatives of Pacific Island nations?

Mr Sloper : Senator, as you're aware from the questioning, there were a range of media articles across the region commenting in response to Senator Fierravanti-Wells's comments, and they included quotes from a range of politicians in the region. I was referring to those articles. You mentioned, I think, both the Samoan Prime Minister and, I think, Tongan. There were a range of others who commented to their local press in response to this, and that's what I was referring to.

Senator WONG: Who are they?

Mr Sloper : There was a comment in the newspaper in Tonga on 5 February, Vanuatu on 22 February, PNG on 10 January. Those three countries issued formal statements, which were then reported in the media. As you noted, Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa commented to media and was reported both locally and in Australia. I think the Tongan justice minister and Cook Islands finance minister also made comments in local media.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I just got distracted by emails. Tonga and where else?

Mr Sloper : Tonga, Vanuatu and PNG made formal statements. The Samoan Prime Minister commented in response to media inquiries, which was reported, and the justice minister of Tonga and the Cook Islands finance minister also made comments in local media.

Senator WONG: Pretty successful intervention, wasn't it?

Ms Adamson : Senator, if I could perhaps come back on that. You'll notice that we didn't answer the question directly.

Senator WONG: It wasn't a question.

Ms Adamson : I know. I think it is not unhealthy to have these kinds of conversations, and I think what we are all agreed on is the need for aid to the Pacific to assist sustainable development. If, as a result of these comments and further comments made about them, we can double-down on that objective, then that, to me, is a reasonable way forward.

Senator WONG: Except I don't think that anybody in their right mind would argue it's not a sensible thing to have conversations about how aid can be best spent. Isn't the issue whether or not this language is the appropriate language to start a respectful conversation, or whether it's inflammatory? I'd suggest to you it's pretty inflammatory, as evidenced by the diplomatic response. I'm happy to move on, unless you feel a great need to discuss it from that point. I think it has been reported but, Mr Sloper, you also referenced it that the foreign minister and the Prime Minister of Samoa had a conversation?

Mr Sloper : That's right.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me when that was?

Mr Sloper : The conversation occurred on 14 January by telephone.

Senator WONG: At whose request was that initiated?

Mr Sloper : I think Foreign Minister Bishop rang Prime Minister Tuilaepa. I'd just say that's not unusual. The foreign minister has conversations with a range of leaders and foreign ministers and other representatives across the region. The conversation extended beyond this current issue.

Senator WONG: Sure. Did DFAT advise that such a phone call would be a useful thing to do in the circumstances?

Mr Sloper : No, I think the call was instigated by the foreign minister or her office. Of course, we'd support it, as we do for all the engagements she pursues in the region.

Senator WONG: Was there any apology sought or provided?

Mr Sloper : No.

Senator WONG: By any nation?

Mr Sloper : Prime Minister Tuilaepa was reported in the media as calling for an apology, but my understanding is that discussion didn't go to an apology; it was an explanation of our position in the Pacific—reconfirmation of our commitment.

Senator WONG: Can I ask my question again, because you've answered it in the narrow and I asked it in the broad. Was any apology sought or provided to any Pacific Island nation?

Mr Sloper : No. Outside of the comments by Prime Minister Tuilaepa reported in the media.

Senator WONG: The justice minister of Tonga and I think one other minister might have described the gap left by Australia. I think I quoted to you the justice minister of Tonga describing the attack on aid as 'sad' and suggested that China was filling a gap left by Australia. Does DFAT have any response to that?

Mr Sloper : I think our view is clearly expressed in the white paper that we have an ongoing commitment to the region but we also recognise the challenges in the region are quite complex and no one country can address those challenges. Reflecting our own approach, we engage with a whole range of partners. They can be national countries and they can be multilateral partners such as the banks. As the secretary noted, we do that with China and we do that with others. I think countries in the region make their own decisions about who their development partners are, and they look at the opportunities there.

Senator WONG: The Australian, I think on 12 January, reported:

Julie Bishop has slapped down her International Development Minister, refusing to endorse Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’s criticisms of China amid concern within the government over the tensions they have created with Beijing.

The Foreign Minister’s move comes after China lodged a formal diplomatic protest, the country’s official newswire labelled Canberra an “arrogant overlord” in the Pacific and experts warned that Australian diplomats would be now in damage control, trying to mend relations.

It then goes on to say:

A government source said while Canberra was concerned about international development projects in the region, it did not want to be seen as directly criticising China’s aid program, and the minister’s comments were out of step with the government’s approach.

Ms Adamson, do you have any knowledge as to whom this government source is?

Ms Adamson : Senator, I do not have knowledge of that, and I was on leave on that day also.

Senator WONG: This is just before the 14th. Does anyone else from DFAT have any knowledge about who the source is?

Mr Sloper : Senator, I've got no knowledge at all of that source and I'm not aware of anybody in the department having knowledge of that source.

Senator WONG: Senator Payne, as the person representing the minister, are you able to pass any light over which source essentially backgrounded against a colleague?

Senator Payne: No, Senator.

Senator WONG: Can you take on notice whether or not the government source in that paragraph in The Australian that I've just read was any member of the minister's staff?

Senator Payne: Senator, we have both read over more years than either of us care to count, I suspect, similar paragraphs, but to the extent that it's possible to ascertain anything—

Senator WONG: It looks like 'authorised', not 'unauthorised', backgrounding.

Senator Payne: You may have better experience of authorised backgrounding than I do, Senator. I don't know.

Senator WONG: I always prefer things to be authorised, otherwise it's a problem, isn't it? I'll ask you this as the secretary: isn't it a concern where you've got public statements that not only appear but specifically articulate a division between the senior minister and junior minister in the portfolio?

Ms Adamson : Senator, I don't believe that there is a division between the senior minister and the junior minister in the portfolio on any issue and certainly not when it comes to the importance of development assistance to the South Pacific.

Senator WONG: That's a different answer. The media have reported Ms Bishop slapping down her international development minister. They've described it as a rebuke and there's a government source backgrounding a different view to Senator Fierravanti-Wells. Whether or not you agree with the content, surely it's not a good thing to have senior and junior ministers at least reported as being at odds with each other or running a different position.

Ms Adamson : My view of that week—and it was a week—is that it was typical in some respects of the second or third week of January when there is a shortage of news and there are column inches to be filled. I gave it no more importance or credence than I would for anything in that period.

Senator WONG: Really? You didn't think it was important? Ms Adamson, as the senior diplomat, it's reasonable for you to defend the government, but, seriously, you dismiss this as not being important when this ran for a number of days and elicited a public call for an apology from the Prime Minister of Samoa, I think—a number of diplomatic representations, however so described—and led to the minister having to publicly distance herself from the comments. That can't just be dismissed as: 'Oh, it was January.'

Ms Adamson : Senator, I do not believe that what was reported, accurately or inaccurately—and I am aware of a number of inaccuracies in the reporting—has had any material impact on the pursuit of our interests in the South Pacific nor our willingness to work with a range of partners on the most important element of all, which is the development of our near neighbourhood and increasing its resilience, its ability to grow economically and to withstand the many pressures that I know you and other members of the committee are very well aware of.

Senator WONG: You say there's been no issue in terms of our relations with the region—the Pacific Island region, the Pacific region?

Ms Adamson : I said, Senator, I don't think there will be any lasting impact from this. We all agree on the way forward and the importance of aid, which contributes to sustainable growth and responds to the core priorities of Pacific governments and doesn't impose heavy debt burdens. There are practical difficulties, obviously, in delivering aid in any part of the world. Some of them are magnified in the South Pacific. I think it would be fair to say that not every aid program delivered by every donor in the region has been as successful as it might be. That is well understood.

Senator WONG: No lasting consequence. So how would you describe the effect on the relationships?

Ms Adamson : We've got Mr Sloper to talk about the very deep relationships that we have in the region. That's what this is about.

Senator WONG: No, please. I think we all know that. If you don't want to comment, say you don't want to offer an opinion. But you've offered an opinion that there's no lasting consequence. Do you think this had any deleterious effect, any negative effect, on our relationship with Pacific Island nations?

Ms Adamson : It's my professional judgement, Senator, that it has not and that it will not.

Senator WONG: No effect at all? It's had no effect, even a short-term effect? So it's usual for prime ministers and senior ministers to criticise Australia and call for an apology? That's business as usual, is it?

Ms Adamson : Senator, as you know, in any relationship there can be ups and downs and things are said that perhaps are better not said, but that doesn't mean that they have a lasting impact. Of course, we can all agree that having media which does comment, sometimes inaccurately, sometimes accurately, and report on what people say is a vital part of our society and who we are, so we deal with it and we move on. I am confident that there will be no lasting impact. What I do think it will do, as I've already said, is bring a renewed focus back to what is most important and that is to our region. As the government said in the foreign policy white paper, in a separate chapter devoted to the Pacific, our interests are very strongly engaged there.

Senator WONG: In the article I just quoted to you, there was a reference to China lodging a formal diplomatic protest. Can you tell us what actually occurred?

Mr Fletcher : Senator, can you repeat the last part of that sentence?

Senator WONG: In the article I was quoting earlier to the secretary, which I think is the article of 12 January by Ms Riordan and Mr Callick in The Australian, which led with 'Julie Bishop has slapped down her International Development Minister' this point is made:

The Foreign Minister's move comes after China lodged a formal diplomatic protest, the country's official newswire labelled Canberra an 'arrogant overlord' in the Pacific and experts warned that Australian diplomats would be now in damage control, trying to mend relations.

I just want to go to the first part of that, which is the assertion that there was a 'formal diplomatic protest'. Can you tell me what did happen?

Mr Fletcher : On 10 January, an official in the foreign ministry spoke to our embassy in Beijing and made representations about the article that had appeared in the newspaper.

Senator WONG: Which article?

Mr Fletcher : The article on 12 January in The Australian. It was the same day.

Senator WONG: The 'white elephant' comments that we've referenced earlier?

Mr Fletcher : Yes.

Senator WONG: So there was a telephone call. Is that what the formal protest is?

Mr Fletcher : Well, it gets back to the lexicon—

Senator WONG: Sorry, I'm not asking you to adopt that language. I'm asking: is there anything further subsequent to that phone call?

Mr Fletcher : Not specifically. We've had a number of exchanges with China at a formal level over the last few months, and it has probably been mentioned subsequently, but 10 January was the only occasion when it was the subject of the telephone call. It was probably—

Senator WONG: Sorry, what was the first part of your answer?

Mr Fletcher : We talk to China all the time.

Senator WONG: Of course.

Mr Fletcher : I'm sure this issue has been mentioned, either in Canberra or in Beijing in one of our subsequent discussions. But on 10 January—we've only had one exchange on this subject, specifically on this subject. So for the journalist to say 'a formal protest' is not how we would describe it.

Senator WONG: No. I think we had that discussion earlier, but a phone call from the foreign ministry to the ambassador or to the—

Mr Fletcher : To the deputy head of mission.

Ms Adamson : Sometimes, that can just be seeking clarification, as you know. Not everything that is reported is accurate, and a part of the job that our embassy does is to ensure that the Chinese side is aware where there are transcripts of what has actually been said and what is reported to have been said.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to find Xinhua's quotes rather than Global Times'.

Mr Fletcher : It's is a sad day when—

Senator WONG: It's is sad day when you're asked to respond to the Global Times? Is that what you were muttering? I was trying to be kind. I'm trying to find the commentary piece written by a Xinhua Australian correspondent. There's a reference to Senator Fierravanti-Wells's comments, saying that they were:

… rich in allegations and speculation and short on hard evidence.

…   …   …

If Australia really cares about its Pacific neighbours, it should first learn from China to treat those much smaller neighbours as equals and refrain from behaving like an arrogant overlord.

Are you familiar with those comments, Mr Fletcher?

Mr Fletcher : Yes.

Senator WONG: I knew you would be. I don't have the sequence of articles, but I think it was also reported in Chinese media that, in relation to the formal protest—and I don't know if they were the words used—China had expressed, diplomatically, its displeasure at the article; is that correct?

Mr Fletcher : Yes.

Senator WONG: Was Australia advised prior to that fact being reported in the Chinese media that it would be?

Mr Fletcher : No.

Senator WONG: Was there any apology or clarification sought or provided, either in the phone call or subsequently by China, as a result of these comments? You can use your own words. Was there a particular response sought by China from Australia as a consequence of this article?

Mr Fletcher : In a general sense, China wants Australia to change its positions on a number of issues, and that has been made clear to us by the Chinese government on a number of occasions.

Senator WONG: I wasn't so much talking about policy changes. I'm making a distinction between those and, I suppose, a request around managing the relationship and public discussion of that.

Mr Fletcher : The answer is no, then.

Senator WONG: Ms Adamson, does the description of us as an arrogant overlord concern you?

Ms Adamson : It's clearly an inaccurate description, Senator.

Senator WONG: That wasn't my question. I will come to things like the South China Sea et cetera, but does it concern you that, whatever differences we have in our assessment of our national interests, in a relationship that is important to Australia the other party is describing us through an official news channel as having the attitude of an arrogant overlord?

Ms Adamson : I think what I would say is that communication between us is best done directly. As Mr Fletcher says, we speak to the Chinese very often, but, as you also know, the Chinese don't hesitate when they are unhappy with any country to make that known publicly. We can perhaps get onto our mutual interests and the need for mutual respect, but we both agree on that at the level of principle.

Senator WONG: January was a big month, with the former Deputy Prime Minister making some pretty alarming comments—well, I'll leave that. He was making some comments which certainly got a lot of media, and I'd like to get your response. An article stated:

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has said Beijing and Moscow are the greatest clear and present danger for Australia.

Speaking in the wake of a major new American defence strategy, Joyce said Islamic State is no longer the nation's biggest threat.

"They don't have the capacity to take out a nation, or completely wipe out our defence sources," he said today.

Mr Joyce echoed the Pentagon assertion that Beijing and Moscow are a greater threat.

First, do you think it's useful or diplomatically wise to compare our largest trading partner with a terrorist organisation?

Ms Adamson : Could you give the date of that article, please.

Senator WONG: It was 28 January. I'm sure Mr Fletcher is well aware of what Mr Joyce said. We then had comments from the Prime Minister and the foreign minister, frankly, cleaning it up, but I'm asking your response to the assertion that Beijing or Moscow are a greater threat than ISIS.

Ms Adamson : I think that was an opinion, and I personally would not agree with it.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I'm assuming DFAT would never actually advise a minister to compare a major trading partner with a terrorist organisation. I think you should just say no.

Ms Adamson : Comparisons are always difficult, Senator.

Senator WONG: Would you agree that he wasn't working from DFAT talking points?

Ms Adamson : I think it would be fair to say that he was not working from DFAT talking points.

Senator WONG: There you go—something you can answer—excellent! What was the response from China to Mr Joyce's comments?

Ms Adamson : None.

Senator WONG: Going back to the lexicon, is this at any of the levels we've described?

Ms Adamson : Mr Fletcher takes a very close interest in all—

Mr Fletcher : None that I recall.

Ms Adamson : None that we recall, which is why I have to say that when you raised it I struggled to think about it. It was not an issue in our relationship at all.

Senator WONG: So, there was no communication that referenced in any way Mr Joyce's remarks from the Chinese government, either here in Canberra or in Beijing?

Mr Fletcher : As far as I know, that is correct—there was none. But we can take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Were there any communications initiated by the Australian side subsequent to Mr Joyce's comments?

Ms Adamson : No.

Mr Fletcher : Not that I'm aware of.

Senator WONG: Everyone just went, 'Oh, well, it's just Barnaby'?

Ms Adamson : I'm very confident that the answer to both questions is no. We'll confirm for you in the course of the day—

Senator WONG: It's pretty funny that the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia says that China's worse than a terrorist organisation and everybody says, 'Oh, well, it's just Barnaby.'

Senator GALLACHER: Well, it was January!

Senator WONG: Okay! I think there was subsequent—I don't have them all here, but I'm sure my staff are here and if I need them they'll email them. But there were subsequent comments by both the Prime Minister and the foreign minister making it clear that that was not the government's position. Did DFAT provide any advice to the foreign minister prior to her making any comments about Mr Joyce's comments?

Mr Fletcher : I don't think so. We can check.

Senator WONG: Were you aware before she or the Prime Minister made any comment that they were going to make any comment making it clear that Mr Joyce's position was not the government's position?

Mr Fletcher : No. I think I was on leave at that time.

Senator WONG: I'm glad you all get leave!

Senator Payne: We do—healthy workplaces, Senator!

Senator WONG: So, does anybody know? There must be someone who wasn't on leave. Or did the country have no diplomats?

Ms Adamson : No, we were absolutely fully staffed to deal with any matter that arose.

Senator WONG: Then can one of the people who was part of the full staffing complement—

Ms Adamson : As you know, the minister and the Prime Minister can speak on any subject at any time—

Senator WONG: Of course. All I'm asking—

Ms Adamson : There are broad talking points, obviously, about our relationship, but typically we don't get into that sort of detail.

Senator WONG: Well, I might ask, if you say yes, and try my chances on what you advise. I usually don't go very well on that, but I actually asked about the fact of advice, which is reasonably uncontroversial.

Ms Adamson : I think not. I read talking points even when I'm on leave.

Senator Payne: I retract my observation about healthy workplaces!

Senator WONG: I'm happy to give the minister an opportunity to respond, but in The Sydney Morning Herald, in a piece by a Mr Hunter, there was a suggestion that a statement by Ms Bishop that neither country posed a military threat to Australia—that is, Russia and China—was at odds with an earlier response from the defence minister. The headline is, '"We have a different perspective": Julie Bishop distances Australia from US on China, Russia threat'. It then goes on to talk about that. It references Secretary Mattis's defence strategy et cetera and then suggests that Ms Bishop said that neither country posed a military threat, which was:

… a statement at odds with an earlier response from Defence Minister Marise Payne, who said Australia shared "similar concerns" to those expressed in the US defence strategy.

I wonder whether you would like to respond to that, Minister.

Senator Payne: Which particular—

Senator WONG: Well, the suggestion that you and the foreign minister were at odds. I'm giving you an opportunity—

Senator Payne: I absolutely appreciate that. But I don't think that's accurate, and I have come well prepared with multiple white paper papers this morning. When we released the defence white paper in early 2016 we clearly stated that the roles of the United States and China in our region—the relationship between them—will continue to be the most strategically important factors in the security and economic development of the Indo-Pacific to 2035. That is advanced and developed by a function of time, apart from anything else, in the subsequent almost two years to the launch of the foreign policy white paper, so it's reflected in that as well. So from the perspective of the government this is an observation we've been making consistently for some time. It's reflected in the US national defence strategy, in the security strategy, and both the foreign minister and I have identified that. So there is no difference in our perspectives at all.

Senator WONG: In Ms Bishop's interview with Mr Gilbert on 29 January 2018, he says:

On another matter both Barnaby Joyce and the Defence Minister Marise Payne—

I'm sorry that he's asking a question about you collectively in that way—

have backed a new defence strategy from Jim Mattis, the Defence Secretary in the US that China and Russia pose a greater threat to the US than Islamic terrorism, are you comfortable with that sort of transparency in terms of our priorities on that strategic outlook?

The foreign minister says:

Neither Russia nor China pose a military threat to Australia …

Do you agree, though, in terms of his shift in strategic concerns—

Well we have a different perspective on Russia and China clearly. We do not see Russia or China as posing a military threat to Australia. We continue to work closely with China, in fact we undertake military exercises with China, as well as with other countries in the region, and we’ll continue to do so.

That does differ from what you said, Minister.

Senator Payne: Well, I don't think it does. In fact, the foreign minister is stating the case in relation to defence engagement, which it's not really my position to prosecute here. We could have done that yesterday in defence estimates. But I could say, for example, that we've been engaging in Australia-China defence strategic dialogues for over 20 years. We celebrated the 20th anniversary of those last year, and we do have an extensive program of engagement which has been very valuable in foundational terms and the defence relationship.

But more broadly, I go back to the statement I made at the time in relation to the perspective that we articulated in the defence white paper that was reinforced in the foreign policy white paper, which is reflected in the defence national strategy. I think the point the foreign minister was making is in accord with that, and I also think it's important for Australia to note from the perspective of our region and our focus that we don't see an either-or argument in terms of the status of the major strategic powers and competition between them or terrorism. We are able to look at both of those, and we do.

Senator WONG: Sure. Well, I'm not actually asking you to defend Mr Joyce's comments. I think everybody knows that he was—

Senator Payne: I thought you were asking me about the foreign minister's observations.

Senator WONG: Yes, you talked about terrorism, but I want to just go back to your comments. All the things you said then were very good—about the history and our strategic position. But you said in answer to a question about the US defence strategy—not the national security strategy, from memory—which came out after the NSS, 'It is for the US to determine what is of concern in relation to its national security but I would note that Australia shares similar concerns.' What I would put to you minister is, in a paper where the take out from Secretary Mattis's document, the US document, was the threat posed by Russia and China, you made no differentiation your comments between the US administration's position and Australia's position. That is in stark contrast to the way in which the foreign minister dealt with it.

Senator Payne: That's your interpretation. I don't agree with that.

Senator WONG: I think it's the public's interpretation.

Senator Payne: I don't agree with it. I have said quite clearly that the position we set out in the Defence white paper in 2016, a position which is affirmed and in fact developed very cogently, if I might say, in the foreign policy white paper of 2017, reflects that in terms of strategic competition between major international powers, China and Russia in particular, the United States perspective on that is one which I have made observations about.

Senator WONG: Can I go to the front page article in TheAustralian today.

Senator Payne: The one about Mr Shorten's visit to the Barrier Reef? What a fine topic.

Senator WONG: Minister, I have been very reasonable but if you want to play politics I think it is disgraceful that we've got senior ministers in this government running different positions on China. I think it is clumsy and not in Australia's national interest.

Senator Payne: I'm not sure this is the place to elucidate that because we could spend some time discussing your views, Mr Marles's views and Mr Shorten's views on similar matters so that won't take us anywhere.

Senator WONG: Throw a bit of mud, right? It is not true. And the reality is, you have had the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia suggest that China is a greater threat then terrorism. You've had your international development—

Senator Payne: You are very defensive about the front page of TheAustralian.

Senator WONG: I am just irritated because I was very courteous you and I gave you a lot of opportunity, because I think you are decent person, to deal with this without making a lot of political accusations. But this is the clumsiness of this government. You have had the international development minister make comments which caused a formal protest, which had to be cleaned up by the foreign minister. You've had the deputy Prime Minister suggests that China was a greater threat than terrorism, which had to be cleaned up by the Prime Minister and the foreign minister. And you and the foreign minister have been at odds on how to respond China being a greater threat proposition than it is in the US defence strategy. So it is a clumsy handling of the relationship.

Senator Payne: Mr Shorten would be very proud of you running that defence. That's very impressive.

Senator WONG: I go to the China deep freeze article by Mr Shanahan and Ms Reardon, please. I am actually inviting DFAT to give us a response to the various assertions in that. I can put them to you: it suggests that China is putting Australia into a diplomatic deep freeze—stalling on diplomatic visits, deferring a trip by our top diplomat et cetera. I will come to the South China Sea. I wonder if we could deal with that separately? But I wonder if you would like to respond to that article.

Ms Adamson : I am happy to respond with a broad description of Australia's relations with China. I think both sides have fundamentally agreed that we have a considerable degree of common interest, of mutual interest. We agree on the need for mutual respect. This is a very wide-ranging significantly important relationship to both of us. It brings mutual benefit to both of us. As you would be aware, it's been the case that no matter who has been in government in Australia that there have been occasional periods of tension in our relationship with China, occasional periods where differences are to the fore but they have never got in the way of us each seeking to pursue a relationship that is of mutual benefit. The headlines are done by sub editors. They are not headlines with which I agree. Yes, there are differences between us at the moment. That has been evident from a range of sources, including, as you referred to earlier, on the basis of what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' spokesman has said in Beijing, and including articles written in the state owned media. But our relationship continues to function as it should.

It is true that I have not visited China over the last few months, as I had intended to. I had originally, earlier in my planning last year, intended to visit. I visit all of our major partners at least once a year, normally. I had hoped to be able to visit in November but, naturally, of course, the 19th Party Congress meant that a visit at that time wasn't going to be suitable. I think there were very few foreign visitors to Beijing during that period. I then suggested that I visit towards the end of January, just after the middle half, and the Chinese came back and said that wouldn't be convenient. It then transpired that that was the second plenum of the 19th Party Congress, so, naturally, that wouldn't have been a suitable time. I was invited to come back with alternative dates. You would be aware, from your own travel to China, that the Chinese don't typically invite you to come on a certain date—they ask you to propose a date, and then there is discussion about whether that is convenient. So, with the date that I proposed then, in early February, we heard back a few days later that it wouldn't be convenient. That was just before the spring festival. I will, in due course, propose other dates.

I think Senator Payne referred to the importance of the defence relationship. I could speak about any aspect of our relationship with China, actually, but I know Defence, at the first assistant secretary level, recently had a very productive visit to China and an exchange of views on the importance of our defence relationship. So, it is true that I have not visited—that is an ongoing discussion—and I'm sure, at some point, I will.

But it is absolutely not true—I've been given to understand; certainly not from DFAT's involvement, and we would always be involved—where it says here, 'Earlier consideration of a March trip for Mr Turnbull to Beijing has not been followed up.' I am not aware that there was ever consideration given to a March trip to Beijing. Of course, the foreign minister engages on a number of occasions throughout the year with her Chinese counterpart, and Mr Fletcher can take you through—if you're interested—the dates of those meetings and the Foreign and Strategic Dialogue.

Senator WONG: Have the dates for that been established?

Mr Fletcher : No, not yet.

Senator WONG: Do we anticipate they will be?

Mr Fletcher : Yes. We have a Foreign and Strategic Dialogue, usually, every year—not absolutely every year, but we try and do it every year—and it's our turn to do it in Beijing this year. So, we will be talking to the foreign minister's office and the Chinese in due course about the timing of that.

Senator WONG: Would you describe some of the language in the article, Ms Adamson, as not being accurate—words such as 'diplomatic deep freeze' and so forth?

Ms Adamson : I would describe that. We're going through a period where there are some complex and difficult issues, but we're working through those. The embassy is operating as you would expect it to. Ambassador Adams has the sort of access that she needs. I think the headline is just wrong.

Senator WONG: Okay. You may have, in your initial response, when I invited you to respond to the article, referenced the Mr Turnbull March reference in here. But is there a trip planned for Mr Turnbull and/or the foreign minister, about which you can give evidence? Other than for the strategic dialogue, which I think Mr Fletcher has responded to?

Ms Adamson : Yes, he has responded to that. There are meetings at the senior level, including our annual leaders meeting dialogue, which can be held in a third country. Last year, Premier Li made a very successful visit to Australia, and had a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister—in fact, a whole program as a guest of government. They then met, as they often would, in the margins of the East Asia Summit in Manila. I was there for that meeting. That was a very good, productive and wide-ranging meeting about our mutual interests. There is nothing unusual at this stage of the year in not having firm dates nailed down. In fact, the Chinese will typically provide relatively short notice for those.

Senator WONG: We've had a discussion about a range of publicised—I'm trying to find a neutral word—responses to various public comments of ministers. I'm going to move on from that. Do I understand your evidence to this committee to be that, notwithstanding those issues and other substantive issues on which our interests and China's may either converge or diverge, it is your assessment that this important relationship is on track?

Ms Adamson : My evidence would be on our relationship with China—and I mentioned this I think just earlier when you were momentarily distracted—that, whatever government is in power in Australia, there are periods when the Chinese are not completely in agreement with everything that we might want to do in our national interest. It's important for us to assert that national interest—

Senator WONG: Which is why I used 'converge' and 'diverge'.

Ms Adamson : The management of the relationship is of course a very high priority for the government.

Senator WONG: Sure.

Ms Adamson : It receives a great deal of high-level attention. There are exchanges on every occasion when you would expect there to be a message—from Xi Jinping on Australia Day, and the Prime Minster and ministers take the opportunity of the Spring Festival to exchange wishes with the Chinese. I certainly want to acknowledge that we are currently in a complex and at times challenging time, but our relationship is functioning as one would expect it to function at a time when both the emphasis that we put on cooperation referred to in the white paper is very much to the fore and so too is the determination to uphold the rules-based order and, indeed, our own sovereignty of decision making when it comes to matters that are the government's priority and prerogative domestically.

Senator WONG: In any relationship there are going to be issues on which we converge and issues on which we diverge.

Ms Adamson : There are.

Senator WONG: And no relationship is predicated on total convergence.

Ms Adamson : That's correct.

Senator WONG: I'm very conscious that you've been very generous, Chair. I think Senator Abetz is here. What time are we breaking?

CHAIR: We're breaking at half past. If you'd like to take us through to the break and then I'll move to others.

Senator WONG: I want to deal with the South China Sea. Ms Bishop had a Radio National breakfast interview with Fran Kelly on the 27th. She was asked about the South China Sea and said:

We carry out exercises in the South China Sea. It is not about a show of force—we already uphold our right of freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight in the South China Sea.

I assume that's a correct articulation of the government's position.

Ms Adamson : Indeed.

Senator WONG: She went on to say:

Australia makes its own decisions as to what is in our national interest and if we decide that we need to undertake more exercises in the South China Sea, then we will do it, but it is not for other countries to dictate to Australia, and they don't.

That's a correct indication of the government's position?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: Is it correct that the South China Sea issue comes up frequently in both bilateral and multilateral meetings?

Ms Adamson : I wouldn't characterise it that way, Senator, no.

Senator WONG: Was it raised in the recent quadrilateral discussion in December?

Ms Adamson : November.

Senator WONG: Were the South China Sea freedom of navigation issues discussed at that meeting?

Mr Green : I think freedom of navigation issues were discussed, yes.

Senator WONG: Was the issue of South China Sea an issue for discussion in the recent visit of the Prime Minister to the United States?

Ms Adamson : My understanding is that it was not raised in the meetings.

Senator WONG: The witnesses are having a bit of trouble hearing. Do you want to start your answer again, Ms Adamson?

Ms Adamson : I gave an answer. I said it was my understanding that it was not raised with the Prime Minister during his meetings in Washington.

Senator WONG: Mr Green?

Mr Green : The secretary's understanding is also my understanding.

Senator WONG: At any level? At leader level or at official level?

Ms Adamson : That's my understanding, but I think it's a question you would need to direct to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. I am certainly not aware of it. My understanding is that it was not raised.

Senator WONG: There was a DFAT official in the leader-level meeting. I confirmed that at PM&C estimates.

Ms Adamson : It has been confirmed to me that that issue was not raised.

Senator WONG: Minister Bishop went on to talk about complementary action in terms of this. It may be that I should ask Minister Payne of this, but Minister Bishop talked about complementary action as opposed to the global FONOPs position that the United States has. Are we able to discuss what she meant by 'complementary action' in terms of freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight? I'm happy, if you'd prefer me to ask in a different estimates, to put it on notice, but it was raised by Minister Bishop.

Senator Payne: I don't have a copy of the minister's words in front of me, but I think one of the things that we've been clear in saying is that we maintain our positions in relation to freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight, as you would be aware. Certainly, in the last 12 to 18 months—two years, really—we've made quite a significant increase in our activity in the region. Last year, the Australian Defence Force executed the largest joint task group that we have had in decades through the region and they engaged in a number of bilateral activities with several partners—a significant number of port visits. I don't have the list in front of me, because I don't have the full Defence briefings with me today, but that was an indication of our increased activity and engagement. That leads us to be able to do complementary activities, which I presume was the observation the foreign minister was making, in a number of areas. We work very closely with our partners and allies in the region, whether that is with Japan, Korea, Thailand or other nations across ASEAN—or with the Philippines in particular. You will have seen us significantly increase our engagement with the Philippines most recently, with the strong support of the United States. All of those point to our very strong focus on security and stability in the Indo-Pacific and more broadly.

Senator WONG: That's all I have on that. Thank you very much for your briefing on the quadrilateral. I do think, given it's a matter of some public discussion, it might be useful for me to ask a few questions of the quadrilateral dialogue in this forum. Other senators who we're not provided with a briefing may follow up. I thank the minister and the department for the briefing. As the secretary said, there was obviously a senior officials' level meeting of what I think has been described as a quadrilateral dialogue. I wonder if you could tell me about that meeting—who attended, what information you can give us publicly about what was discussed, purpose and outcome; and what did you call it?

Mr Green : And what did we call what?

Senator WONG: It's always 'the meeting'.

Mr Green : Quadrilateral dialogue.

Senator WONG: It was just described as that—okay, thank you. There should be a brief that says 'quadrilateral dialogue', I reckon.

Mr Green : There is a brief which reads 'quadrilateral dialogue'—you're right!

Senator WONG: I would back you just to do it off the top of your head, actually.

Mr Green : Senator, thank you for the opportunity to talk about the quad, which is a strategic dialogue between like-minded democracies based on their shared vision for prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific. Its members—who are Australia, the US, Japan and India—share a commitment to a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific. The reinvigoration of the quad is important and timely, as the white paper tells us. The rules that have governed our region are under pressure, and the quad allows us to deepen strategic engagement among partners and enhance regional resilience at a time of unprecedented geostrategic, economic and technological change.

Since re-forming, the quad has met once for talks at senior officials level on 12 November in Manila. We and the quad partners are consulting on the timing of a second meeting. It's important to say that, as well as engaging with these players, of course, Australia has a deep engagement across the region with all of the key players, and that includes a strong and positive relationship with China across a range of interests.

Senator WONG: I think you said that there is likely to be a subsequent meeting, but that's not been set yet—is that right?

Mr Green : That's accurate.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me about the engagement with ASEAN nations and their response?

Mr Green : Yes, I can. The quad complements the central role of ASEAN and the ASEAN-led regional architecture—notably, the East Asia Summit. It reinforces the rules based order and the rule of law—issues which are of keen interest to ASEAN also. As committed ASEAN dialogue partners, all four quad members are strong supporters of ASEAN and its central role in regional architecture. In Australia's case, this is demonstrated by a hosting of ASEAN leaders at the special summit in March. To go specifically to your question, yes, we have been active in the region in engaging with our ASEAN partners about our discussions with the quad as we would be on any number of issues of significance to them and to the region more broadly.

Senator WONG: Thanks very much for that. I'll try to work out what I can do in six minutes, Chair—

CHAIR: Do you want me to hand over to Senator Abetz?

Senator WONG: No, it's alright. Can I now quickly deal with the announcement, I think, this week about the—I don't know quite whether it's a finalisation or the pathway to finalisation—maritime border with Timor-Leste and get an update on that? Thank you.

Mr Larsen : Senator, you may or may not have seen a press release issued by the conciliation commission—

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Larsen : It was issued at the conclusion of discussions held in Kuala Lumpur last week. The formal conciliation commission completes its work today. As the conciliation commission's press release indicated, the maritime boundaries treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste will be signed in New York on 6 March. The treaty will be signed on 6 March. The treaty was negotiated and settled—

Senator WONG: The sixth?

Mr Larsen : On 6 March this year.

Senator WONG: Next week?

Mr Larsen : Next week.

Senator WONG: By whom?

Mr Larsen : There's currently advice to the foreign minister, and we are anticipating it'll be signed by a minister, most likely the foreign minister, I expect.

Senator WONG: You mean ours?

Mr Larsen : Correct.

Senator WONG: And on their side?

Mr Larsen : On their side, there are a number of different indications—we haven't had final confirmation—but most likely it'll be the minister responsible for the maritime boundary negotiations on the Timorese side.

Senator WONG: I think Senator Moore can finalise this bit on East Timor, if that's okay, Chair.

Senator MOORE: We have four core minutes here. Some of us might ask for a briefing on it as well, in terms of the process. We've had some information about outlining the agreement. Can you give us the key points? There were the two things that were absolutely essential. Would you mind putting on record what they are?

Mr Larsen : There were two key components to the negotiation process. The first was the formal negotiation of a maritime boundaries treaty. That has been concluded and is agreed between the parties, subject, of course, to signature on 6 March. The second component was a series of discussions between Timor-Leste, Australia, and the Greater Sunrise joint venture companies over agreement on a development concept for the Greater Sunrise resource. The key issue with respect to the Greater Sunrise resource was the determination of whether the development concept which favoured establishment of an LNG plant in Timor was the most commercially viable and appropriate option. The alternative put forward by the companies was the utilisation of the existing LNG plant in Darwin.

Senator MOORE: So, in terms of the first one, the treaty will be concluded on 6 March. For the second one, is there any timing around that? That is really the key issue for some of the people involved as to how that process will operate in the future.

Mr Larsen : Absolutely.

Senator MOORE: From Australia's point of view, what do you expect the timing to be on that?

Mr Larsen : The conciliation commission has produced a paper. All proceedings of the commission remain confidential between the parties, so, if you'll forgive me, Senator, I won't reveal the specific details.

Senator MOORE: Really?

Mr Larsen : The commission has produced a paper—not a recommendation but a paper—which assesses the two alternative development concepts. That paper has been shared with the parties, and we are waiting on a Timor-Leste response as to whether or not they are in a position to make a decision concerning a particular development concept.

Senator MOORE: So in terms of the parties, as far as Australia's concerned, that's DFAT handling that process? There are a few different elements in that particular process?

Mr Larsen : Correct. There are a number of agencies involved. DFAT has Gary Quinlan, our relevant deputy secretary, who has been the lead negotiator for Australia. But the Attorney-General's Department, the department of industry and a range of other agencies, of course, have been involved, because there are quite complex issues associated with the development concept. Obviously taxation issues are relevant. There are a whole range of legal issues and a range of foreign policy issues as well.

Senator MOORE: Right. There's a question that says: is it a good deal for Australia? But I would think you'd be limited in how you'd be able to respond to that.

Senator WONG: He should say 'yes'!

Mr Larsen : I think that's correct. I think that has to wait until the treaty has been made public.

Senator MOORE: Yes. You told me that it's now with the group in Australia but the actual decision is with East Timor now to see whether they're agreeable. Is there any timing for when that could happen? This has been on the table for a very long time, and there's been a pressure point for a long time. I think East Timor have been pressuring to have a resolution as well. Have you had any sense about timing after 6 March when they'd be hoping to have this concluded?

Mr Larsen : The conciliation commission, and the chair of the commission, indicated to us that they would like a decision taken by 1 March, which would be today.

Senator MOORE: Prior to the signing of the treaty?

Mr Larsen : Prior to the signing of the treaty. That's today. That, of course, is not a binding deadline.

Senator MOORE: No. But it doesn't need to be signed before the treaty is signed?

Mr Larsen : That's correct. In fact, you could have a decision on a particular development concept, or you could have no decision.

Senator MOORE: And a commitment to further talks?

Mr Larsen : Correct, yes.

Senator MOORE: You couldn't have nothing after the treaty is signed—or you could have nothing?

Mr Larsen : That is possible, yes.

Senator MOORE: On notice, can we have any indication about the economic benefits for Australia in that process?

Mr Larsen : I will take that on notice but, yes, of course we can.

Senator MOORE: Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 10:30 to 10:47

CHAIR: Welcome back, everybody. This hearing has now resumed. Senator Wong has asked for five minutes, so we will go to you first, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: I appreciate very much the courtesy shown by the chair. Ms Adamson, at the supplementary budget estimates round you were asked about DFAT's role in advocating for finance for the Carmichael coalmine.

Senator Payne: I was.

Senator WONG: And you said:

It has not been DFAT's role to seek finance for the project.

Senator Payne: That's correct.

Senator WONG: Does that statement remain true?

Senator Payne: Absolutely.

Senator WONG: Documents, under FOI, which have been released, and I think have been reported, say that Adani has requested a letter of support from the Australian government to the Chinese government—that is, the NDRC—to help secure Chinese finance. Can you explain to me the difference between those two positions?

Ms Adamson : Certainly. The evidence that I gave at the last estimates was correct at the time and obviously remains correct. What the FOI request was about was whether a request had been made. The FOI documentation shows that a request was made by Adani. But you will recall that the letter written by ministers was tabled at the last estimates and I was very clear in my evidence that DFAT's role had not been to seek finance on behalf of Adani. That letter was really demonstrating to the Chinese that the project itself was an important project but that project financing is actually a commercial matter, which is Adani's responsibility.

Senator WONG: I've a few questions on that. When did you first become aware of Adani's request for letters of support?

Ms Adamson : I'll ask my colleagues, who have been working on this very closely, to answer that question.

Ms Klugman : The department first became aware of that when we received a diplomatic cable report from our embassy in Beijing, passing on that wish, as expressed to them, by Adani.

Senator WONG: Can you explain to me what the wish was—what the request from Adani was? How did the post in Beijing describe what you have described as the 'wish'?

Ms Klugman : Sorry, Senator; I'm just looking for the terms.

Senator WONG: That's okay; take your time.

Ms Adamson : It was broadly for a letter which, if you like, confirmed the bona fides of the project. In my evidence on the last occasion—and I'm sure my colleagues will call it up for me—I think I explained that it was thought that the Chinese would need to know that this was a real project. That was the characterisation of it, and Senator Brandis was very happy for us to table the exact letter that was written. So the distinction is a distinction between what Adani was seeking and what we actually provided, which was simply a letter basically saying that this is a project. The letter was tabled last time. You've got the letter.

Senator WONG: I may or may not have it with me. I can't recall. But can we go back to what DFAT understood the request to be—the terms of it? I think you were just looking it up, Ms Klugman.

Ms Klugman : The understanding, as reported to us from the embassy in Beijing, was that the Adani company had requested a letter of support from the Australian government to the Chinese government, addressed to its National Development and Reform Commission, to help secure Chinese financing. That was the request.

Senator WONG: To help secure Chinese financing?

Ms Klugman : That was the Adani request.

Senator WONG: Ms Adamson, would you agree that that's a little bit more than, 'This is a good project'?

Ms Adamson : The request?

Senator WONG: Correct. Do you agree with that?

Ms Adamson : We know what they asked and you can see what our reply was, and there is obviously a difference.

Senator WONG: When you say ' reply', is this the letter of 8 September from Mr Joyce and Mr Ciobo.

Ms Adamson : Correct. Yes, to Mr He Lifeng, the chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission. I can table it again, if that would be helpful.

Senator WONG: No; I have it in front of me. The last paragraph says: 'We welcome foreign investment to support the development of major projects in Australia. We'd be happy to discuss this further in the upcoming strategic economic dialogue,' and basically says that the government is committed to the project et cetera.

Ms Adamson : That's correct, but it has always been a commercial matter for Adani to secure the funding. That's why I said—

Senator WONG: Where does it say that in the letter?

Ms Adamson : That's the government's position. That's our understanding of it. DFAT has not had a role to play in fixing that for Adani. That is their responsibility.

Senator WONG: Did you help draft the letter? Did DFAT help draft the letter?

Ms Klugman : The letter was drafted in the offices of the ministers who signed it.

Senator WONG: Did you see a draft of the text of the letter before it was sent?

Ms Klugman : I believe we did, but I would have to check that and come back to you.

Senator WONG: Does the final version of the letter accord with the draft that was seen by DFAT?

Ms Klugman : I believe it does but I will check, because I need to check whether we saw a draft.

Senator WONG: In the context of preparing the letter, were there any changes to the letter that DFAT requested?

Ms Klugman : Not that I'm aware of. This was a letter from ministers.

Senator WONG: Do you regard the letter as being short of a letter of support, Ms Adamson?

Ms Adamson : The letter is something that the government could reasonably say. We talked about this last time. The Chinese system needed to know what sort of a project this was. The answer is that we, the Australian government, welcomed Adani's recent final investment decision and facilitated the passage of new legislation. All those things are factual. Then there was a statement of policy at the end and also good practice: 'We welcome foreign lending to support the development of major projects.' But DFAT's role—I just want to be very clear about this—was to transmit this letter. We have not made follow-up representations and we've not sought to have this achieved. It was almost like a letter of comfort from your bank manager. This is what the project is. Anything else is a commercial matter between Adani and Chinese banks or Chinese companies, which might have an interest in funding it.

Senator WONG: The FOI documents which have been released and reported reveal that in August of last year, a month after Adani made the request—which I assume, Ms Klugman, is the request that you've referenced and that you were advised of via the post in Beijing—

Ms Adamson : Correct—I assume so.

Senator WONG: The request was being discussed by the High Commissioner to India, the Ambassador to China, the Deputy Head of Mission to China, Ms Williams, Mr Brown and you, Ms Klugman. That's what the FOI document shows.

Ms Klugman : Sorry, what's the question?

Senator WONG: I'm asking you to confirm that all of those individuals were involved in discussions about how to respond to this request.

Ms Klugman : That's correct.

Senator WONG: When did political officers get involved? Was it from the beginning?

Ms Klugman : Yes.

Senator WONG: What role did you have in responding to this request? In particular, what did you understand the government was asking you to do?

Ms Klugman : Our role was simply ensuring that the relevant ministers, through their offices, were made aware of the request from Adani as cabled by the embassy in Beijing, and were standing ready to act on instructions from ministers when they made decisions on how to respond.

Senator WONG: Was the letter that the ministers wrote to support Adani's effort to secure funding for the project?

Ms Klugman : The letter was written simply as an expression of established Australian government positions with respect to developments in—

Ms Adamson : A sort of status report on the project.

Senator WONG: Come on.

Ms Adamson : No, no, Senator—not 'Come on'.

Senator WONG: Seriously? Really, does anybody look at that letter and not think it's them trying to help them get funding? It stops short of a specific request but says, 'Look, whiz bang—all good. Environmental approval—we love it—and we like foreign investment.'

Ms Adamson : Senator, I'm sorry, I just cannot agree with that characterisation of it. You know China well. You know the role of the National Development and Reform Commission in terms of approving outbound investments on this sort of thing.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Ms Adamson : That is the status of the project. It is then obviously a matter for Chinese banks. Now, as it happens, Chinese banks have, I understand, not taken up the opportunity, so the government was simply providing a statement of the status of the project. I think the fact that the fact that there has been no DFAT or embassy involvement in seeking finance for the project attests to all of that. This was a statement. What kind of thing is it? This kind of thing. It's what the Chinese government expects. This is the letter. DFAT has done nothing more on this than simply convey the letter. And, as a matter of principle, the government is very clear that financing is a commercial matter for Adani.

Senator WONG: Some people in the government might think that, but I'd suggest to you that the letter is as close as you could get to telling the Chinese, 'Please give them money for this project,' without explicitly saying that.

Ms Adamson : Senator, as to the way China works, including at the moment, this is not that kind of letter. It just does not work that way.

Senator WONG: I understand also from the response to a QoN in October that the department has met with the Korean import/export bank to clarify the status of federal environmental approvals granted for the Carmichael project in November 2016. It's the case, isn't it, which we've discerned from the answers to other questions on notice that the meeting was held as a result from a request from Adani. Correct?

Ms Klugman : Correct.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, I'd just say you asked for five minutes. It's been 15.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I apologise. I'm happy to stop and come back to it.

CHAIR: Thank you. Secretary, did you have a response for Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: I can come back to it.

Ms Adamson : We'll come back to it. That's fine.

CHAIR: Secretary, I'd like to turn to the white paper. First of all, I'd like to commend you and the department on an outstanding document. I know it's our first in 15 years, and I think that it is—

Senator Gallacher interjecting

CHAIR: Are you disagreeing, Senator Gallacher? It is an outstanding document.

Senator GALLACHER: You don't have to respond to the interjections!

CHAIR: It's outstanding. It's interest and values based, and I think it is a very strong statement of our interests today. Given it is the first one in 15 years, would you be able to give us some more information on the consultation process and the development phase, just to give us some idea of how it came to be?

Ms Adamson : Thank you very much, Chair. Of course I'd be very happy to do that, but I'd like to acknowledge at the outset—you were kind enough to acknowledge the role of the department, and I particularly want to credit my colleagues Richard Maude, who was leader of the task force and is now deputy secretary heading up the newly created Indo-Pacific Group; Justin Hayhurst; and the other members of what was an 18-person task force. It was a genuinely whole-of-government effort. People worked very hard over the course of the year and very closely with Defence, given the very close fit between the defence white paper and its expression of our strategic interests and the foreign policy white paper, which went to the full breadth of our international engagement.

The white paper was built on extensive consultation in Australia and overseas. When it came to Australia, I said to the team at the outset: 'This needs to be the most comprehensive consultation exercise we've ever undertaken.' I actually said, 'I never want to meet an Australian who tells me that they were not given an opportunity to contribute.' I can say to you I have never met such an Australian—anyone who's listening to this, I suppose, could come forward—but it was very extensive indeed. There was a call for written submissions, and over 600 substantive submissions and 8,000 campaigning submissions were received. Roundtables were held across the country, not just in the capital cities but in regional Australia. The foreign minister led a number of those. Officials went out of their way—including through our global heads of mission meeting. We brought all our heads of mission back, and they provided input to the white paper. We then sent them out across Australia—rural, regional and beyond—to seek the views of Australians and to talk about the work that DFAT does in support of growth and jobs and a range of other things. We also worked very closely with state governments. They all, I think, provided very thoughtful and considered submissions. The team also travelled to the capitals of a range of partners for talks with governments, think tanks and the private sector. They went to the US, China, Japan, the ROK, Indonesia, PNG, the UK, the EU, Germany, France, Singapore and Malaysia and held videoconferences with a range of other close partners, including New Zealand. We published a report of the public consultation. We learnt a lot from them. We do every time we consult the Australian public. But I think the document is a strong document as a result and, of course, it had a whole-of-government input through a deputy secretary level advisory board and through engagement at secretary level across all departments. Ministers were very closely engaged—our own, obviously, but ministers more broadly. At the end of it, we felt we'd been able to produce a document that would set out a pathway forward, if you like, for Australia during what is, it's already clear, a decade characterised by shifts in economic and strategic weight and a high degree of uncertainty.

CHAIR: Thank you and, again, congratulations to you and the team on that process. What has been the response domestically? I'll come to the international response, but what's been the domestic response to the report?

Ms Adamson : I think it's been a very positive response. We obviously tracked responses for the first few weeks very closely. I referred in my opening remarks to some of the statistics around the number of people who we think actually went onto the website, had contact with it—

CHAIR: Did you say 55,000?

Ms Adamson : Yes. They were very, very large numbers. One's got to be a little bit careful about some of the data around these things, but we distributed 6½ thousand copies—we had to go into a second print—and more than 55,000 accessed the white paper website. There has been quite a bit of interest internationally, obviously, beyond think tanks—certainly across foreign ministries, defence ministries, trade ministries, development ones across the board. We took a lot of trouble to integrate what I'd call the economic and strategic perspectives to ensure that our foreign trade, investment, development and all our other interests were very carefully considered.

We obviously briefed it out to major partners ahead of the release. All other governments were briefed at the time of the launch. Ambassadors across the world ensured that our partners were aware of the thrust of it and, in particular, of the content that was relevant to them.

I think the feedback has generally been very positive. There's a school of thought amongst foreign policy specialists and strategists that these things—some people think these things are very difficult, in fact, too difficult even to contemplate. I think the government's view from the outset really was that there are challenges for Australia and there are opportunities. We need to think deeply about those. We need to think about, particularly, our location right at the centre of the Indo-Pacific region and how we can chart a course through that. I'm very pleased to say that some of those who had been, perhaps, inclined to be critics beforehand—

CHAIR: Or sceptical, at least.

Ms Adamson : They've acknowledged that it was a worthwhile undertaking and that the policy content is quite rich. I've certainly found, in all of my conversations with counterparts since then—and I think this is true, really, across the breadth of the department's work—that it's been raised. My French counterpart actually told me last week that if France had produced such a document, he would hope that it would be a document like that. They're now looking in fact at their own Indo-Pacific strategy. One's got to be realistic about these things. It's not going to please every single person, but we've been, I think, encouraged by the feedback that we've been given, and we've certainly had very strong and positive feedback across the region, across the Indo-Pacific. Colleagues who've been in Washington recently, I'm sure, could speak to the strength of US interest. But what we see is them talking about it, writing about it, being interviewed about it—some US former officials—I've heard them on AM, heard them on Fran. I think it's a worthwhile thing to do, and that's what we wanted to do: produce something that would help us chart a way forward.

CHAIR: In your opening statement, you mentioned about that you're now restructuring the department to align it to the white paper.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

CHAIR: Can you perhaps explain a bit further how you're doing that?

Ms Adamson : I would be very happy to. I don't want to necessarily go into too much detail. Put it this way: I'm happy to go into as much or as little detail as the committee would like. The reason I've given it to you in A3 form, where it's big enough to read, is that I know the committee takes a very close interest in our work and the way we're structured. Broadly speaking, we are now structured so that there is policy coherence—greater policy coherence—within the various groups. From left to right on the sheet: Services Delivery Group is largely unchanged but our Trade, Investment and Business Engagement Group has been restructured to give a stronger focus on business engagement—that work's very important. Justin Brown is now responsible for Europe and Latin America Division also. We've got big trade agendas going there—free trade agreement agendas—and he'll speak about those in more detail tonight. Having an Indo-Pacific Group with all of the geographic divisions and, at the heart of it, a newly named US and Indo-Pacific Strategy Division, I think will enable us—already is enabling us— to implement the white paper in the way that the government expects us to do. Our International Security, Humanitarian and Consular Group—again, there's a logic to all of that. There's no single way of structuring a department, but there's a logic to that. We're already getting benefits from that, including in our engagement with the new Department of Home Affairs. They're a big department. We need to be able to work with them productively across all policy areas, and we're seeing the benefits of that. Global Cooperation, Development and Partnerships Group has a mix of our development and aid divisions. But across the board, in an integrated department, there are many divisions in a number of groups which have some responsibility for our aid program that enables us best to meet our national interests.

CHAIR: From your description of how you've restructured the department, would it be fair to say that it's really now based on the national strategic priorities and the effect we're trying to shape globally rather than on process and function? Does it sit more in the service delivery group now?

Ms Adamson : Yes. I think, typically, DFAT deputy secretary responsibilities have evolved over the years. The way they've been grouped has evolved. In some cases, it's been practically driven by how much travel can one person do, given the geographic responsibilities. We really now have a very clear policy coherence within the groups and in alignment with the government's foreign policy white paper priorities.

CHAIR: One thing that I've had a particular interest in for a long time is defence strategic policy. One of the benefits I see for this strategic area is that this actually provides greater guidance and much greater linkage with Defence white papers as well. Can you talk a little bit about this relationship with other white papers and strategic guidance for the nation?

Ms Adamson : I mentioned in my remarks, in response to your first question, that there is obviously a very close fit between the Defence white paper, which sets out the government's thinking in 2016, and the Foreign Policy white paper. We work very closely indeed with the Department of Defence at all levels, really, on a daily basis; and we need in a world where there is a degree of contest, if I can put it that way, where strategic weight is shifting to ensure—a government rightly expects from departments—that we are completely joined up in the use of the exercise of hard power, when we need to use that, the exercise of soft power, and that continuum across the board. Again, it's the International Security, Humanitarian and Consular Group and our Indo-Pacific Group where those relationships are at their closest. The reason we've got the Humanitarian, NGOs and Partnerships Division in there is that our aid program is such that stabilisation, recovery and the provision of development assistance in countries which have been sorely tested in security terms—we're much better positioned to work quickly and closely with them.

CHAIR: In a simplistic way, would you see the way the department has evolved to be in alignment with other key departments of state—that it's really a maturing of our approach not only to ourselves, but also our place in the world and our interests? There are two things, obviously, for our democracy to survive: we need a strong economy and economic development and we need security. This seems like an evolution in both those areas. That might be a bit simplistic, but they're the two key—

Ms Adamson : No, I actually think it's a very fair characterisation. It's something that we've been trying to do. We may need to make some small adjustments as we go along. We obviously want to learn from our experience. But the experience since we did this at the beginning of the year has been very positive, including for the reasons that you've just mentioned.

Senator ABETZ: I was wondering if I could traverse the potentially sensitive area of allegations of sexual abuse that have been laid against Australian foreign aid NGO staff. Do we have a record of that? Let's say, the raw numbers: how many such complaints have been made in the last 10 years, and by year, or if it's five years—whatever may be available—or what can be taken on notice.

Ms Adamson : We can answer that question, Senator.

Mr Gilling : As part of our Child Protection Policy, which is a key platform of our assurance mechanism that addresses the issues that you've been talking about, we have a process of mandatory notifications. It means that every time there is a suspicion, every time there is a concern across the world, with our partners, they will let us know. So, yes, Senator, in answer to your question about whether or not we collect that information, we do collect that information.

Senator ABETZ: Can you please take on notice, given the time constraints, what the actual protocols are, and provide that to me in writing, please? Are you able to provide, just now, let's say in the most recent year, the number of complaints?

Mr Gilling : Certainly, I'm happy to take that on notice—

Senator ABETZ: You need to take that on notice?

Mr Gilling : No—it's your first point I'm happy to take on notice—

Senator ABETZ: Sorry; right.

Mr Gilling : but I can also address your second question—

Senator ABETZ: Just to clear up, if I may: in your initial answer to me, you referred to child sex abuse.

Mr Gilling : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: But I understand that, if we can use the term 'vulnerable people'—which of course includes children—that also, from that which I've been told, can refer to women as well or to people over the age of 18 or majority. So does the mandatory reporting include that as well?

Mr Gilling : Thank you for clarifying that. The mandatory reporting applies only to the child sex abuse. We have a safeguard policy that applies, exactly as you say, to vulnerable children, vulnerable women and other vulnerable people. That does not include mandatory reporting.

Senator ABETZ: Why not?

Mr Gilling : It's a complicated environment, because some of the elements that have been reported represent contraventions of codes of conduct for the organisations concerned, which may or may not be illegal. The child sexual abuse angle is categorically illegal, and, therefore, we have 100 per cent coverage. But some of the issues that are being raised in the current discussions are complex because they apply differently in different countries. So we still have standards. We still have expectations. Our contracts still reflect that we need the organisations to have those codes of conduct. But we don't, at the current moment in time, include compulsory notification of those issues.

Senator ABETZ: Can you take on notice, for the past 10 years, the number of notifications? But let's say in the last year or two—do you have a figure handy?

Mr Gilling : I have a figure handy in the last year or two for child protection issues.

Senator ABETZ: And what is that?

Mr Gilling : Our total notifications for 2016-17 was 14.

Senator ABETZ: Was that just in one country, or—

Mr Gilling : That's across the whole world.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, I know that, but one assumes that, with 14, it would not be in every place in the world where Australia has a footprint. Are they localised to a particular country or a region or a couple of countries? Are you able to tell us the countries where these 14—

Mr Gilling : I can't give you the precise location of where the 14 occurred, but I can tell you that they reflect where the aid program is highest. So where we have a large aid program—Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea—that's where—

Senator ABETZ: So, sadly, in our very near neighbourhood?

Mr Gilling : Yes. But can I clarify that I'm talking about notifications. These notifications come in. They sometimes result in prosecution. They sometimes result in code of conduct violations. They're sometimes found to require no further action. So the 14 is the full population.

Senator ABETZ: And, of course, one assumes there may well be activities that are, sadly, never reported, either.

Mr Gilling : That's true, but I would like to just say that our child protection policy, in particular, has been rated as being best practice. Every three years we independently assess it, including through the New South Wales Ombudsman's office.

Senator ABETZ: But, sadly, with all these things, you don't know what you don't know.

Mr Gilling : That's correct.

Senator ABETZ: If you can get those figures for me, going back 10 years, on notice, that would be helpful. Are you able, in that same 10-year framework, to tell us how many staff or volunteers were sacked or allowed to resign, and to differentiate between the two?

Mr Gilling : We have very comprehensive information. As I say, again, on the child protection notifications, we would be able to break that down. Whether we can go back the full 10 years, I'll have to take on notice, but I can certainly go back five.

Senator ABETZ: Whatever you can reasonably do. But can you think of any situations where people have been sacked, just in the recent time?

Mr Gilling : I'm absolutely sure that, in the last couple of years, there would've been at least one or two dismissals as a consequence of the investigations.

Senator ABETZ: Have we allowed any people to resign?

Mr Gilling : I would have to take that differentiation on notice.

Senator ABETZ: All right, if you could. If people have been dismissed, does this mandatory reporting of which you speak include mandatory reporting of this to the local authorities for the possibility of prosecution?

Mr Gilling : Absolutely it does. I would be confident that a fair number of that 14 would have resulted in local-level prosecutions.

Senator ABETZ: Right. And do we offer consular assistance or legal aid to these people?

Mr Gilling : I'd have to—

Senator ABETZ: Take that on notice, yes.

Ms Adamson : We would, obviously, if they were Australians. I think that a range of people are involved our aid program being delivered, some of whom would be Australian citizens but not all of whom would be in the various countries where we would be working closely with local partners. It's our practice to provide consular assistance to Australians where that is requested.

Senator ABETZ: And in the cases of those who have been sacked or dismissed—or, indeed, in any other cases—has any compensation been paid to victims?

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

Senator ABETZ: If so, how much? Could you provide that for me for over the past 10 years, or whatever reasonable time frame you're able to? And if no payments have been made, can you explain the reason why? One would assume that if somebody is dismissed then there must be a view that the allegation is relatively strong, even if it's not prosecuted. And so what have we done with follow-up for the victims?

Mr Gilling : I will just add to that: I think we would be bound by the local legal environment—I would imagine that the payment of compensation, if indeed it took place, would be guided by that.

Senator ABETZ: We wouldn't just do it as a gesture of goodwill, nevertheless? Anyway, take it on notice—I don't want to delay the committee for too long. In the case of sexual abuse allegations, are Australian NGOs required to report those to the Australian government? You've said that that is the case.

Mr Gilling : Just to clarify: I said it is the case for the child sex—

Senator ABETZ: It was the case?

Mr Gilling : It is the case for child sexual abuse, but not for—

Senator ABETZ: But not for vulnerable people, which one assumes would largely be women?

Mr Gilling : To include women—that's right, Senator, yes.

Senator ABETZ: Does DFAT make this information available publicly? Let's say, in its annual report?

Mr Gilling : No, it doesn't, but we do have it internally. It is shared with the Audit and Risk Committee.

Senator ABETZ: Is there a reason why we don't share this information, let's say, in the annual report? To put it up in lights that we, as a nation, find that sort of behaviour abhorrent and that if anybody has an interest in matters of foreign affairs or providing aid et cetera and if their business is other than genuine service, then they ought to be on the lookout because we have these strong protocols to which you refer? I'm just wondering why we don't publicise it?

Mr Gilling : I don't think anybody in the aid community is under any doubt about the seriousness with which we take our commitments to safeguard vulnerable people, including vulnerable women and vulnerable children. Currently, we don't report that in the annual report. We are currently undertaking a review of our systems in light of the accusations, to see whether or not we can strengthen our approaches. And it may well be that that's one of the things that we take into account.

Senator ABETZ: Well, can I put a gratuitous suggestion here that thought be given to that?

Ms Adamson : Certainly, Senator. Transparency about these things can be a very powerful way, actually, of ensuring that the broader message that Mr Gilling has outlined is understood and that it is clearly backed by action which we do take. So, yes, thank you for that suggestion.

Senator ABETZ: This is the danger of preparing questions a few days beforehand: the next one was, 'Has DFAT asked its NGO contractors not to give money to Oxfam GB in light of the current scandal?' I think I know the answer to that is yes.

Mr Isbister : It is.

Senator ABETZ: Well done to the government and to the department for the quick response to that. Is the department aware of one Professor McLeod? That name? Yes?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: He's been described to me as an Australian aid worker. Professor MacLeod has called sexual abuse in the aid industry endemic—that's his word—and his other word is institutionalised, while former UK development minister Patel has said that the Oxfam scandal was the 'tip of the iceberg'. Have Professor MacLeod or other whistleblowers shared this concern with DFAT or, in the past, AusAID?

Mr Gilling : We're certainly aware of Senator McLeod's concerns. I'm not sure—

Senator ABETZ: He's only a professor, not a senator—

Mr Gilling : Sorry, Professor MacLeod. The professor's concerns we are aware of—

Senator ABETZ: I think you did demean him by calling him a senator rather than a professor! You're aware of his comments and his concerns in this space. As a result of that, what action has been taken by the department? He says it's the tip of the iceberg. He says it's endemic, institutionalised—we seem to have a cultural issue here. What are we doing to get rid of this scourge?

Mr Gilling : I can start by talking about the broad response and then perhaps one of my colleagues working on the UN area could give you some specific advice.

Senator ABETZ: We were told earlier about the general protocols that are in place, but there are other matters—I'm getting those on notice.

Mr Gilling : I would just like to make the point that some of the responses that the UK aid program has made—for example, the announcements from the current Secretary of State—about immediately setting up a safeguards unit, we already have in place. Indeed, on the child protection policy front, they are establishing a child protection policy that we already have in place. My view would be that we are already very well placed to deal with it. In response to the specific issues around the UN—

Ms Adamson : Senator, could I just add though, we are well placed because it's something that we've always regarded as being important and been attentive to. But we are also very aware of the particular risks and dangers that have been flagged through the UK experience and we want to ensure—Mr Gilling mentioned a review—that there is nothing more that we could or should be doing. I suspect, as we go through all of that, we will find areas where we can strengthen our existing approach.

Senator ABETZ: If we are fully aware of this and fully on top of it, how come it has become, to quote Professor McLeod, endemic and institutionalised? One would have thought that, if we were fully on top, it wouldn't be the tip of the iceberg, it wouldn't be endemic and it wouldn't be institutionalised. There would be, potentially, just the one pocket here and there. So, do we accept the description of Professor MacLeod and Minister Patel that it's the tip of the iceberg, institutionalised and endemic?

Mr Gilling : I don't want to steal my colleague's thunder, but I told you that we had in place a mechanism for reporting all incidents. We have a great deal of confidence in that. I told you what the number was.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you for that, but do we accept the descriptions—that it is institutionalised, endemic, and the tip of the iceberg? This would suggest to me that there's a real cultural issue here, and if there's a pocket here and there, you would rely on people reporting an incident or whatever. If it's a problem of being institutionalised, one would hope that a proactive investigation would be underway to look under every rock to see what is going on to weed this scourge out of the international aid culture or whatever we call it.

Mr Isbister : In terms of Professor MacLeod's comments, I don't think we accept the figures that he's put out to date around the numbers. He's put out extrapolations of figures that peacekeepers have had over the years and then multiplied it over the years. However, having said that, we do absolutely accept that there is a challenge and, undoubtedly, institutional issues around exploitation of vulnerable people in humanitarian situations. The Australian government takes that very seriously. Mr Gilling has already outlined the sort of policies and processes we have in place.

But maybe just to quickly touch on, since the most recent reports have come out in relation to Oxfam and other issues, is that as soon as we were made aware of that issue, the government was engaged with Oxfam to fully understand what the issues and requirements were. We also wrote to every CEO of our NGO partners to, one, emphasise how seriously we take these issues, to remind them of the policies, codes of conduct and reporting requirements that are in place, and we also asked them what they were doing, in light of these incidents, to strengthen their own systems and issues around this. In addition to that, in discussions with ACFID, the peak body, they've also announced their own independent review to look at the question of whether their current code of conduct—

Senator ABETZ: Whose?

Mr Isbister : ACFID, the Australian Council for International Development, which is the peak body.

Senator ABETZ: I'm not used to the acronyms, so thank you.

Mr Isbister : They announced an independent review to look at how the existing code of conduct could be strengthened to touch on some of the issues Mr Gilling emphasised around clear reporting around sexual harassment and sexual exploitation issues. Also, through our funding arrangements with all UN partners, we've had for a long time mandatory reporting around child protection issues. We've been one of the leaders around promoting humanitarian codes of conduct for all actors. In addition, one of the things the Australian government has done is place protection officers, protection workers, into a lot of these humanitarian crises to not just try to look at how we ensure the policies and processes, but that we've got people on the ground who can actually be looking at where these issues may be surfacing and, if need be, ensuring that the reporting and action is taken. One example is that we have three protection officers at the moment in Bangladesh, one of them working with World Food Program. She spends her time looking at how distribution is done in those centres, what the risks to women and children are, how there can be better logistics—

Senator ABETZ: We've got all these things in place. It comes back to how come, according to Professor McLeod and Minister Patel—Professor McLeod may have extrapolated figures, the methodology of which you may disagree, but when Minister Patel from the United Kingdom tells us that it's just the tip of the iceberg, how has all this occurred with these officers in place and elsewhere? I suppose what I'm wanting to hear is that we have ramped up considerably our investigations, in the light of not only Oxfam but the comments of the good professor and the good minister.

Ms Adamson : That was the point—perhaps I didn't convey it as well as it might have been conveyed—I wanted to say earlier, which is that although we've made this a priority, although we've done all the things my colleagues have explained that we've done, I want you to have confidence that we're not simply going to rest on those policies and practices. This is really a global issue and frankly it's not an issue just in relation to the aid program. The sexual abuse and harassment of women globally is a huge issue that is coming more to the fore publicly in a range of different areas. As with any situation where, clearly, we can't guarantee at every moment of every day what is going on in these programs, we think we've got the best possible guarantees, but we're going to look at those again—of course we will. Every responsible aid agency in the world should be doing that.

Dr Lee : To indicate on the United Nations—some of the international action that has been taken on this issue, if I may outline some of that. UN Secretary-General Guterres has taken a reform agenda of the UN, which Australia has been supporting. This issue of sexual harassment has been a focus of his—to indicate that. He has reiterated a zero-tolerance policy and commitment to ensure maximum attention and strengthened action on sexual harassment across the UN system, and has also set up a task force to address that. In relation to UN peacekeeping, as well, where I understand this has been an issue, Australia has strongly condemned sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers. In September last year we signed a UN compact to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse and to strengthen accountability. The Prime Minister—

Senator ABETZ: Lots of paper. Lots of talk. But I suppose what I want to know is that, as a result of this, have we had specific further investigations take place, and what has been the result of those investigations? With a lot of organisations, it seems the bigger they are, the more paperwork, the more protocols they have and the more discussions and international conferences, but the scourge continues. I want to know what, in the Australian context, we have done, given these revelations. Whilst we can argue the numbers, I think we're agreed with former minister Patel's assessment that it's just the tip of the iceberg as to how seriously we're taking it. Have there been specific investigations? If so, what's been the outcome of them?

Mr Isbister : As I said, the allegations on Oxfam, absolutely, there's been investigations and the UK Charity Commission is looking at that now. For reports we get where there are incidents—for example, the World Food Program or UN agencies—there are mandatory requirements for that to be done. With other donors we will look into it and, in many instances, suspending funds will be one of the options until we have clarity on what the issue—

Senator ABETZ: But is there any specific investigation under way or are there any specific concerns that are being investigated?

Mr Isbister : In relation to what?

Senator ABETZ: The assertion is—or not an assertion—I think we've accepted that the tip of the iceberg has been revealed, so just going on with business as usual, or changing protocols or things like that—

Ms Adamson : Our business is not business as usual. I'm afraid I just have to come back very strongly on that.

Senator ABETZ: Good. All right, so what are you doing?

Ms Adamson : My colleagues have explained that when it comes to child protection and associated things we are regarded as probably the best in the world at the moment. Now we're not simply stopping there. We recognise that these things are difficult to know about and we should leave no stone unturned. That's what we're on the process of doing, including by proactively—and I think you acknowledged this point—engaging Oxfam here, talking to ACFID. They have to be responsible for their members.

Senator ABETZ: I recognise all the self-praise and in fairness—

Ms Adamson : Excuse me. It is not self-praise.

Senator ABETZ: In fairness, Australia is, from what you're saying, at the head of the pack, but—

Ms Adamson : I'm not sure what you're trying to get us to say, because we take it seriously. The government abhors it.

Senator ABETZ: Just the truth will do.

Ms Adamson : We have zero tolerance for it. We have policies in practice. We are pursuing these.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but now—

Ms Adamson : Are they absolutely effective? I can't say to you that they are, but we are doing our best.

CHAIR: Please allow the secretary to answer the question without talking over her?

Senator ABETZ: But now that we know and accept that it's the tip of the iceberg, right—that which has been revealed—

CHAIR: Senator Moore on a point of order.

Senator MOORE: I don't agree that there's been any agreement by anyone on the statement 'tip of the iceberg'. It is perfectly reasonable—

CHAIR: Senator Moore, that's not a point of order. It's a debating point. You will have the opportunity to raise that—

Senator MOORE: Verballing the witness—

Senator ABETZ: Senator Moore, sorry. I thought previously I had asked the witnesses. If I misheard them I'm more than happy to—I thought there was an acceptance that there was some institutionalised and endemic tip of the iceberg—that those descriptions were accepted.

Mr Isbister : No, I think what was said is that clearly we know these incidents occurring are not the only incidents. There is, within the UN system, humanitarian—

Senator ABETZ: Let me ask specifically, do you accept that it's institutionalised?

Mr Isbister : I think it depends on what you're talking about as institutionalised. We know it's occurring across a range of different humanitarian agencies and operations and we have the systems and the issues to address those.

Ms Adamson : It is a broader societal problem. It's not just—

Senator ABETZ: I fully agree.

Ms Adamson : As we know, institution by institution, as they are examined, as a light is shone on behaviours over decades, things are being uncovered.

Senator ABETZ: I fully agree. But do we agree with former UK minister Patel, that that which has been revealed in Oxfam is just the tip of the iceberg?

Mr Isbister : I think we would agree that the incidents that have been made public are not the only incidents occurring around the exploitation of vulnerable people. That's an issue we need to be focused on, and have a strong focus, both in our systems but also in how we directly address it with partners. One additional thing about what we're doing is that the foreign minister also met with the present secretary of state, Minister Mordaunt, only a bit over a week ago to specifically discuss these issues and highlight how seriously Australia takes it and how we can work with the UK and other donors to look at how we strengthen across the global system the practices, processes and dealing with cases that do emerge.

Senator ABETZ: Have foreign governments ever made complaints about sexual abuse by Australian aid workers? Is that the case?

Mr Gilling : We have no records of that taking place, but I'd have to check.

Senator ABETZ: If you could take that on—

Ms Adamson : I can assure you that were we to receive such a complaint we would act on it immediately and effectively.

Senator ABETZ: If so, what countries, which NGOs, and whether DFAT or AusAID investigated them. And has DFAT or AusAID ever received complaints from Oxfam Australia relating to sexual abuse against women and/or children?

Mr Gilling : Oxfam is one of the organisations that is part of the people who deliver aid on our behalf, who have over the last 10 years generated some notifications, which we have investigated.

Senator ABETZ: I'm talking about Oxfam Australia specifically. Have you received complaints about Oxfam Australia?

Mr Gilling : Yes, we have.

Senator ABETZ: Right, you have. From how far back?

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

Senator ABETZ: But some number of years?

Mr Gilling : Let me just have a look. I think we have some records from the last couple of years.

Senator ABETZ: So we had concerns about Oxfam Australia before the Oxfam GB matters came to light?

Mr Gilling : Oxfam is a significant partner to the Australian aid program.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, I understand that.

Mr Gilling : When I told you earlier that we'd had, over a period of five years, I think I told you a total of 25 notifications, which we investigated. Some of those were about Oxfam.

Senator ABETZ: Do you know how far back? Twenty-five?

Mr Gilling : Twenty-five is the notifications, and 14 resulted in further action.

Senator ABETZ: Were those 14 cases 14 separate perpetrators?

Mr Gilling : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: Can I take from that that if there were 14 separate perpetrators there might be more than one incident per perpetrator.

Mr Gilling : No, that would be a specific incident. What is reported is incidents. The 14 is the number of incidents that I've been reporting.

Senator ABETZ: Only having one victim. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Gilling : I would imagine the incidents are varied, but I would imagine that typically—

Senator ABETZ: That's what I'm trying to get at. Are the 14 to which you referred separate individuals? If so, was there a multiplicity of complaints against some of or all of those 14 individuals?

Mr Gilling : No, these are discrete individual complaints.

Senator ABETZ: Of a victim?

Mr Gilling : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: Right. It could be that there is one perpetrator of a number of those 14?

Mr Gilling : That would be almost impossible, because as soon as we have notification we take action and the individual concerned, even before we have had a chance to investigate with the partner organisation, would be taken out of the—

Senator ABETZ: But sometimes these things happen, or come to light as a result of a multiplicity of cases—that is, if I might say, understood I would have thought. Anyway, take that on notice.

Mr Gilling : Can I make a clarification? The whole operation of this child protection policy is about learning. One of the reasons that we encourage getting feedback from the field and that we encourage this process is because we can only address the issues and deal with the concerns if we have confidence, as a whole aid community, that it's okay to report the incidents and that the incidents will be dealt with seriously. So while it's unfortunate and tragic that we have this number, we are learning as an organisation. As I said at the very beginning, every three years our policy is reviewed independently to ensure that we continue to learn. We are getting better as a group at dealing with this.

Senator MOORE: Thank you, Senator Abetz, for some of those questions. We got a lot of information and thank you for the responses. You said that it's reviewed every three years. When was the last one?

Mr Gilling : At the end of 2016.

Senator MOORE: You said you would have another review as a result of the interest that has been placed around this particular issue—

Mr Gilling : That's right.

Senator MOORE: and that it would not be too far before your next one.

Mr Gilling : That review would include the broader issues that Senator Abetz was raising.

Senator MOORE: The standard review that you have. That would roll into one. And you said it was independent. How is that—

Mr Gilling : It includes independent members—as I said, the New South Wales Ombudsman's office.

Senator MOORE: So that is actually generated by DFAT and using it. A lot of the discussion we've had is around NGOs. Mr Isbister, I know you said that your policies extend into every form of aid that we provide—the multilaterals, the UN and that process. So this review covers all of our aid program?

Mr Gilling : Yes.

Senator MOORE: The other issue I was keen to know was that, in terms of developing your policy, looking at best practice around other institutions, like defence forces, police forces, any large institutions, you would be being guided in the development of policy and looking at other agencies that are involved in these processes?

Mr Gilling : Absolutely. That is one of the reasons for bringing in the Ombudsman's office, because they have jurisdiction or at least contact with precisely these sorts of policies.

Senator MOORE: One of the things, clearly, is that through NGO processes, they have internal codes of conduct and processes, much like the ACFID process. Through other providers that you deal with in the program, do they have similar kinds of internal contracts and standards?

Mr Gilling : Absolutely.

Senator MOORE: As you know, the ACFID code of conduct has been developed over many years and is a regular agenda item at their conferences in terms of how that works. Do the other forms of aid provision have similar contracts and similar standards in terms of process?

Mr Gilling : Absolutely. Indeed, part of our due diligence process that we go through before we make a decision about funding involves an assessment of the HR policies, which include the codes of conduct.

Senator MOORE: Is it possible to get on notice the information that you provide to providers about these issues—when you're reviewing someone's claim to work in the system, what kind of information you provide to any of the providers?

Mr Gilling : Certainly.

Senator MOORE: Also, you mentioned that in the contract that people have to sign there is this element in the contract. Could we see the element in the contract, or the contract? I know things are covered with privacy in some elements, but I think it would be very useful to see what DFAT actually makes any provider sign up to when they're in this process.

Mr Gilling : Gladly. To add to two points: part of our policy involves us going out not just to the posts around the world where our aid program is managed, but also to the partners. In fact, last year we undertook training with 1,400 different staff and partners. What you're asking for is how do we communicate our expectations and policies. 1,400 people are contacted. Furthermore, we also do audits every year of the organisations with whom we work. They are spot checks. I believe we have done 18 spot checks in the last—

Senator MOORE: Specifically on this issue? I know you do a range of reviews.

Mr Gilling : Yes, the 18 are specifically on child protection.

Senator MOORE: Spot checks on their child protection policies?

Mr Gilling : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Can I just finish the batch of questions I was asking about Adani. We'd got to the Korea export finance discussions. The Korea export import bank, I think.

Ms Adamson : It goes to a question that you had asked and I'm just checking whether we can actually provide the answer. I think the answer is that we're part way there, so we'll wait till we've got the full answer.

Senator WONG: I think I referenced the fact that it's been made public that the department met with the Export-Import Bank of Korea to clarify the status of approvals for the Carmichael project in November 2016. Firstly, can you confirm that that meeting was held as a result of a request from Adani?

Ms Klugman : As detailed in our answer to question on notice, 011, yes. In October 2016, Adani requested that the department meet with the Korean export import bank to clarify the status of federal environmental approvals for the Carmichael project.

Senator WONG: That wasn't my question. I asked if the meeting occurred as a result of a request from Adani.

Ms Klugman : Yes. The meeting did occur as a result of a request.

Senator WONG: Who received the request? It can't have been Beijing, presumably, because it's Korea. The last request was received from the Beijing post?

Ms Klugman : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Who received the request from Adani in respect of the Korean bank?

Ms Klugman : My understanding was that that request came from Adani to DFAT here in Canberra on 13 October 2016.

Senator WONG: At a departmental level, or was it sent to ministers and then passed on?

Ms Klugman : My understanding was a departmental level.

Senator WONG: To whom? Not so much the individual; I'm trying to—

Ms Klugman : I'm not sure which part of the department, but I can check that for you.

Senator WONG: Was there any contact from any minister's office in relation to either this request or the request we were discussing previously?

Ms Klugman : I'm not aware of any contact between DFAT and the minister's officers in the Korean case. In the case of the China matter that we were discussing earlier, there was contact insofar as the department drew to the attention of relevant officers the request from Adani as reported by cable from our embassy in Beijing. But any other contact subsequent to that was about making sure the offices didn't need anything more from us to assist the consideration that ministers were undertaking of that request.

Senator WONG: Sorry. Can you repeat that last sentence?

Ms Klugman : We just checked in with offices to make sure they didn't need anything more from us.

Senator WONG: You're taking on notice drafts of the Chinese letter.

Ms Klugman : I am indeed. I should be able to answer that for you today, later in the hearing.

Senator WONG: That's very helpful. Back to Korea, the November 2016 meeting. Who attended the meeting?

Ms Klugman : The Australian embassy in Seoul. I haven't got the detail of what level that meeting happened. That meeting was in October 2016.

Senator WONG: It says November in the—

Ms Klugman : I heard you say November, but my information is October.

Senator WONG: Can you check that? I think you might have answered that.

Ms Klugman : We did on notice and we said October.

Senator WONG: No, you said November. It's actually a question, number 17, which I've got a copy of. It's from then Senator Xenophon. 'The department met with the Korea Export Import Bank to clarify the status of federal environmental approvals granted for the Carmichael project in November 2016.'

Ms Klugman : I'll have to check that for you.

Senator WONG: Was there only one meeting?

Ms Klugman : That's my understanding, that there was only one meeting.

Senator WONG: Nothing necessarily turns on it. But I assume you get the October request.

Ms Klugman : Correct.

Senator WONG: Which was in writing?

Ms Klugman : No.

Senator WONG: What's the nature of the request? How is the request communicated to the Seoul—sorry, we haven't actually established that. How was the initial request received? It was to someone in DFAT, you don't know who. Was it by letter or by phone?

Ms Klugman : My understanding is that it was orally in a discussion that Adani initiated with DFAT Canberra. I think it was the North Asia division, but I will check that for you. As a result of our consideration of that request, a cable was sent to the Australian embassy in Seoul asking that they have the meeting that I referred to earlier. I will check whether that meeting was in October or November.

Ms Adamson : I think the request was in October and the answer was provided in November. But we will confirm this for you. That explains it. We're talking about two different qons with answers to slightly different questions.

Senator WONG: There's a lot redacted in the FOI. I'm not going to go through that. But I am interested in understanding the nature of the request. What was the request? What is the gravamen of the request?

Ms Klugman : The nature of the request from Adani was for the Australian government, DFAT, to engage with Korea's export import bank specifically on the question of federal environmental approvals.

Senator WONG: Do you have any documentation about that meeting that you can provide me with?

Ms Klugman : I don't, but I will check.

Senator WONG: Can you take it on notice? I assume there was reporting back from that. Was there any correspondence or any notes of the meeting? What was the result of the meeting? What's the outcome?

Ms Klugman : The outcome of the meeting was, as I said, that DFAT Canberra instructed our embassy in Seoul to meet with Korea's export import bank—

Senator WONG: Perhaps I miscommunicated. We've got a request come in, you send a cable, et cetera. What was the outcome of the meeting with the bank?

Ms Klugman : The outcome of the meeting was that it was simply for the embassy officials in Seoul to confirm to KEXIM that all federal environmental approvals had been granted. There was no other outcome.

Senator WONG: And you'll take on notice any documentation associated with the meeting. Ms Adamson, can I just put this to you: I know you've been careful saying, 'We weren't actually—' There was a letter from the Deputy Prime Minister and the minister, which said that we welcome international financing, foreign financing, and we really support the project. We have a meeting at Adani's request with the Korean financing institution, but we weren't seeking financing, we were just telling them. These actions don't accord with the proposition that the government wasn't facilitating funding for the project.

Ms Adamson : I'm not being careful. I'm just being accurate.

Senator WONG: DFAT doesn't rock up to the NDRC or write a letter to the NDRC from the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia or have a post meet with a bank just to have a chat.

Ms Adamson : This was about environmental approvals, in relation to the first one. This is a very major project. It's not surprising that around the world, banks or other potential investors are seeking clarification, particularly in countries like Korea—

Senator WONG: It's not. It's the proponent asking you to help them get financing. That's what happened.

Ms Adamson : But what I'm saying is DFAT has not played a role in seeking finance for the project. That's not what we've been about.

Senator WONG: That's lawyer's language.

Ms Adamson : If we were about that, as you know, we would have done that with every possible—if that had been an objective for us, we would have gone out and really hit it hard. It has not been our instructions. It has not been an objective.

Senator WONG: You've got a situation where, at a company's request, there are letters from the senior minister saying: 'It's a whiz-bang project. Yes, we love foreign investment.' Meetings were being set up at the company's request from post with the Korean investment institution. I think it is really playing word games to suggest you're not assisting in the—

Ms Adamson : No, I'm—

Senator WONG: Yes, you don't make the application, but you're helping out.

Ms Adamson : I can't agree with that characterisation.

Senator WONG: Okay. We're not going to agree. Can I turn to Cambodia, please. It was reported in The Sydney Morning Heraldon 22 February that Prime Minister Hun Sen had threatened protesters who burned an effigy of him and that he made some comments suggesting that he would pursue them to their homes and beat them up. Is the department aware of these threats?

Ms Heckscher : Yes, we've seen the reporting of those.

Senator WONG: All right. As I understand them, these are properly understood as threats in relation to Australian citizens or Australian residents.

Ms Heckscher : They have been extensively reported in the media based on translations of comments that were made in a speech by Prime Minister Hun Sen to garment makers in Cambodia. I don't think that the reporting was inaccurate on the basis of the translation that we have on the nature of the comments.

Ms Adamson : I think that's a yes.

Senator WONG: I think that is. What response has the department or the government made?

Ms Heckscher : Our ambassador in Cambodia has engaged with the foreign minister and with the ministry of foreign affairs in Cambodia on this issue.

Senator WONG: In the course of that has it been made clear that making such threats in relation to actions of Australian citizens or Australian residents in Australia is unacceptable to Australia?

Ms Heckscher : Yes, it's been made clear that there is a right to protest and freedom of expression in Australia, and that threats on Australian soil are not acceptable to the Australian government.

Senator WONG: Has there been any further request in relation to this matter? Has there been any request as to a public statement or any other such response forthcoming from the Cambodian authorities?

Ms Heckscher : A formal Cambodian request to us for anything in particular?

Senator WONG: No—us to them, as a consequence.

Ms Heckscher : Our ambassador has engaged with them directly. I'm not sure that—

Senator WONG: Has there been anything apart from us saying to them, 'This is unacceptable, we are a democratic country, we have a right to freedom of speech and a right to protest and any threat of violence in response to that is unacceptable from whomever,' which I think is what you are saying is the government's position?

Ms Adamson : Absolutely.

Senator WONG: It's a common position across the parliament. I'm asking whether we sought any remedial action, any statement, from the Cambodian authorities; or did we simply put this view and leave it at that?

Ms Heckscher : I don't have the full detail of exactly what the conversation was, but certainly when one government expresses concerns about certain comments that are made to another government, I think implicit in that is a comment on what kind of action is needed.

Senator WONG: Okay. Perhaps you can come back to me with: did we ask for a retraction? Did we ask for any action to be taken by the Cambodian government as a consequence of our representations? I'm asking the question in the broad, okay? Are you able to come back to me on that today? Or do you need more time?

Ms Heckscher : I'll consult.

Senator WONG: You do what you can. Has the department taken any other actions in relation to these threats?

Ms Heckscher : I'm not aware of any further specific action that the department has taken.

Senator WONG: Have there been any communications with the AFP or the New South Wales Police?

Ms Heckscher : I understand, largely from media reporting, that individual organisations or individuals within Australia may have written to the AFP.

Senator WONG: Right. Has DFAT been party to any of those conversations, though?

Ms Heckscher : Have I been present in those conversations?

Senator WONG: No. You've got these comments made. Obviously I think you've referenced that there are concerns from various NGOs or community organisations who may have spoken to authorities because of their concerns. I'm asking whether DFAT's spoken to any police authorities.

Ms Heckscher : We're aware of the referrals having been made, if you can call it a referral. But certainly the complaints having been passed on by individuals, I'm not aware of us having been involved in any further conversations with the AFP about that.

Ms Adamson : But if you were across government, it may be that that's come from other areas. I think we'd like to check that.

Senator WONG: I think it was September last year, the Cambodian Opposition Leader was arrested in part, at least ostensibly, on the basis of a speech made in Melbourne in 2013.

Ms Heckscher : Yes, Senator.

Senator WONG: I think serious concerns were expressed at the time; is that right?

Ms Heckscher : Yes. I'm just looking for it. I think there was actually a question on notice that specifically asked about that.

Senator WONG: I said something. My memory might be incorrect, but I thought the government also made a statement about this.

Ms Heckscher : The foreign minister made a statement. Let me just find my notes to see exactly when that occurred. Just refresh my mind about the date, Senator? Just because I'm looking at a long list—

Senator WONG: I think it was September 2017.

Ms Heckscher : Certainly the embassy was heavily involved in making representations over a lengthy period of time.

Senator WONG: My staff have found it. There was a media release of 17 November. I suppose what is deeply concerning about this is this seems to be the second occasion in which activities in Australia, whether in relation to the Opposition Leader or protesters, is being used as a basis for either, in one case, arrest or, in this case, public threats by the Cambodian leadership. That is a concern.

Ms Adamson : Yes, it is.

Senator WONG: Some might say stronger words might be required. At the special summit, is the government intending to utilise its opportunity to raise concerns about these matters?

Ms Heckscher : The benefit of the special summit is of course the opportunity to exactly engage with each of the ASEAN leaders about issues of concern. If your question is asking exactly what is going to be discussed with the ASEAN leaders, that would be a question for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator WONG: I am not—I am actually just asking if the opportunity will be used. There are lots of parts of the world that may not operate in the way that Australia might hope. But this does go to the perception of safety of Australian citizens and Australian residents and the defence of freedom of speech and right of freedom of protest et cetera in Australia. So, to my way of thinking, it is another order of concern. I am simply asking, and if you don't feel it's appropriate to tell me in this forum I am happy for you to take it on notice.

Ms Adamson : The point you make is absolutely right, and in fact Ms Heckscher has said the summit will provide an opportunity for the Prime Minister, and ministers actually, to engage their counterparts on all aspects of our relationship, including the matter that you have raised today.

Senator WONG: I would encourage that. I want to move now to the appointment of the high commissioner.

Ms Adamson : Which high commissioner?

Senator WONG: It was reported on the ABC on 18 December that Senator—now Mr—Brandis was 'off to London sparking a pre-Christmas cabinet reshuffle'. Can I ask, firstly, what is the usual process for announcing the appointments of high commissioners or heads of mission?

Ms Adamson : The usual process, if you like, is dependent on the circumstances.

Senator WONG: Now, you see—

Ms Adamson : You see—

Senator WONG: you and I both know—

Ms Adamson : We do.

Senator WONG: that usually there is a public statement from the minister. Can we at least concede that?

Ms Adamson : Of course.

Senator WONG: I could get my staff to go—

Ms Adamson : No, but you asked a general question.

Senator WONG: Yes. Okay. All right.

Ms Adamson : On both sides of politics this is the reality.

Senator WONG: Okay. But you and I—

Ms Adamson : There are variations.

Senator WONG: I can ask my very efficient staff to get every media release or tweet that the minister has put out announcing who was being sent where. So you would agree, would you not, that it is usual for the minister to announce who has been appointed?

Ms Adamson : Um—

Senator WONG: Come on! That is—

Ms Adamson : No. Look, Senator—

Senator WONG: That's not a hard concession, Frances—Ms Adamson.

Ms Adamson : Senator Wong, there are some positions overseas—

CHAIR: I think that would be 'Secretary'.

Senator WONG: Yes.

Ms Adamson : to which special considerations apply. London is one of them.

Senator WONG: Okay.

Ms Adamson : And I can—

Senator WONG: On how many occasions—we can do this if you want.

Ms Adamson : We can.

Senator WONG: On how many occasions has a head of mission been announced in this last 12 months where the minister has not either put out a media release or tweeted it?

Ms Adamson : Let me narrow it and say, in relation to Washington and London, Australian governments over the decades have chosen different methods to announce appointments, particularly to both of those places.

Senator WONG: Okay.

Ms Adamson : It is the norm for heads of mission posted to other countries, shall we say, for those announcements to be made sometimes months before the appointment takes place, sometimes weeks, sometimes days. The current practice is normally for the foreign minister to do that. Occasionally there are tweets as well. I think all our ambassadors these days expect tweets. But, in relation to appointments to London, Washington and some others on occasions there will be an announcement of a different kind.

Senator WONG: Okay. Prior to 18 December when this matter was reported was there any announcement from government?

Ms Adamson : Any announcement in relation to the appointment?

Senator WONG: Sorry. On 18 December ABC news reports—there is confirmation that Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, as he then was, will leave parliament and take up the post of Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. I am asking, apart from that article running, was there any announcement from the Australian government about the appointment?

Ms Adamson : I don’t think so.

Senator WONG: Has there been a press release or statement issued by the minister in relation to this announcement at all?

Ms Adamson : Well, it was a matter of public record on the day.

Senator WONG: No. Has there been a press release or any statement from the minister announcing the appointment?

Ms Adamson : No. Not yet, but I have no doubt—

Senator WONG: Not yet!

Ms Adamson : No. Senator—

Senator WONG: Is he there?

Ms Adamson : Well, no, he is not there yet and what—

Senator WONG: Oh, right. We are waiting until he gets on the plane!

Ms Adamson : No. In the normal course, these things are done in a particular way. The minister thanks the outgoing high commissioner for his or her service and makes a formal announcement and sometimes that is doubled up. There is nothing unusual about this. There really isn't.

Senator WONG: With respect, Secretary, no matter how much you say there is nothing unusual, I think most people kind of go, 'Well, there probably is'. Anyway let's leave that. I'm not going to get into any—I don't want to have another commentary argument.

Ms Adamson : Senator, can I just say—

CHAIR: Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: I'm trying to get to a question.

CHAIR: I think that would be good.

Senator WONG: I will.

CHAIR: I have been very—

Senator WONG: You've been good.

CHAIR: accommodating to your political statements and debates.

Senator WONG: Aye aye.

CHAIR: But I think if we can get to questions, that would be great.

Senator WONG: Okay. Prior to that article running on 18 December, were you aware that the appointment had been finalised?

Ms Adamson : I was aware that the appointment was about to be made. But, as you know, there are processes around the seeking of agrement, formal processes within our own system when it comes to the government recommending to the Governor-General in council and appointments. So there are a number of formal steps. It is not unheard of for an announcement of Washington or London or a small number of other places to be made—

Senator WONG: I am declining to respond to her commentary. Are you noticing? Just because you told me not to.

CHAIR: Secretary, please continue.

Ms Adamson : Well, I mean, the Senator knows about—

Senator WONG: If you want to invite commentary I will—

CHAIR: Senator Wong and Secretary—

Senator WONG: Thank you.

CHAIR: There has been a bit of discussion and debate backwards and forwards, and I think if we could—Senator Wong—focus on questions and answers?

Senator WONG: I asked a question. I wasn't the one going off on why it's all so 'usual'.

CHAIR: Senator Wong, please continue.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Do you have any knowledge as to how the ABC became aware of the appointment prior to any formal statement being released or communicated by the foreign minister or the Prime Minister?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: Senator Payne, can I ask you that question?

Senator Payne: No. I mean, yes, you can ask, and the answer is no.

Senator WONG: No, you don't know?

Senator Payne: Correct.

Senator WONG: Could you take it on notice, please, whether or not the minister or her office is the basis on which this information was confirmed to the national broadcaster.

Ms Adamson : I will take it on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you.

CHAIR: We will go to Senator Rhiannon and come back to Senator Wong.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you very much. I want to pick up on some of the programs around governance in the Pacific. In PNG, I understand, DFAT is funding programs to support women's leadership and governance. I picked up on the pillar 3 of the PNG Governance Facility and it says:

… focus on supporting the role of civil society agents as instruments of change and promote greater community engagement with government, including MPs, for more accountable use of resources.

Through the aid program, it appears, Australia does support advocacy for change. Is that a fair summary?

Mr Sloper : We support, through the aid program, in a range of countries, NGOs, communities and—to participate in political debate. We support better governance in the Pacific through training of public servants, through a whole range of programs, including the ones you have outlined. I am not sure if that is answering your question, but certainly we support both better and more effective governance through training, questioning, contestability of evidence and discussion in the public fora. Is that the change you are looking at? Sorry, I'm just not clear—

Senator RHIANNON: No. I just wanted to establish that you do support advocacy for change programs in other countries, in low-income countries.

The government has before parliament the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017, and there have been questions raised by some of the aid organisations about the impact it would have on advocacy in Australia for civil society and their international aid work. Will this bill undermine the department's own efforts to bring about change through the aid program? I will give some examples that have been raised with me of things that could be under a cloud because of this new electoral funding bill. The foreign minister has joined the Bill Gates-led End Malaria Council, which has an advocacy component to it. The US based Wellcome Trust is sponsoring the Malaria World Congress and, I understand, doing that with DFAT. My question is: has consideration been given by DFAT to the impact this bill will have on advocacy within the aid sector and even within DFAT's own work?

Mr Isbister : The draft legislation currently being considered doesn't have any impact on the humanitarian and development work of agencies overseas. In the work that they're doing overseas they're exempted from that. It doesn't constrain them in raising funds and using funds in Australia for advocacy efforts here. The only limitation is around the use of foreign funds for political expenditure in Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: But I noticed that when you were speaking about the overseas work you emphasised humanitarian work, you only said 'humanitarian work'. Is that because you're separating the advocacy work out? The heart of my question was about advocacy work in low-income countries.

Mr Isbister : No. It covers all humanitarian and development programs overseas.

Senator RHIANNON: Organisations in Australia won't be able to use international funds to conduct advocacy, such as for the need to eradicate malaria within the region. That's a fact.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I'm loath to interrupt your questions, but, as chair of that inquiry, of which you are a member, I think what you're saying is not factually correct.

Senator RHIANNON: Chair, with all due respect, I can ask the questions and get them on the record, because, as we all know, there is massive controversy and there are different responses to the impact this will have.

CHAIR: But the purpose of this is to ask questions of the officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs, not necessarily to prosecute a case and get issues for another committee on the record.

Senator RHIANNON: My questions are very relevant, Chair, and I would ask that I be able to continue them.

CHAIR: What I would ask is that you ask questions, again, cognisant that this is an estimates hearing for Foreign Affairs, not prosecute a case for another inquiry.

Senator RHIANNON: It's not prosecuting it for another inquiry. Foreign Affairs now, as we know, covers overseas aid. As we all know—and as you and I particularly know—the issue of how the charities who work in overseas aid will continue their work has been one of the issues we've dealt with enormously. So I would ask that I be able to continue my questions.

CHAIR: Please continue, but just keep in mind that this is a DFAT estimates.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Mr Isbister, the Uniting Church have stated that, for example, their campaign to ban landmines, which funded a representative to be part of the Australian government delegation at meetings relating to the Mine Ban Treaty—which, again, is advocacy—possibly could not occur if this legislation were in place.

Mr Isbister : As the chair said, the main questions in relation to this are for the Department of Finance, which is lead on the legislation. The only restriction is in relation to funds that are used for political expenditure. In terms of raising awareness and issues around landmines and concerns, I couldn't see, under the current legislation, there being any restriction or issue with that.

Senator RHIANNON: Was the department consulted on these bills?

Mr Isbister : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: What was the response?

Mr Isbister : I'm not going to go into the advice, obviously, that's provided from DFAT, but I will say that in looking at it we provided our views and perspectives on the potential impacts and the shaping of the bill around the humanitarian and development activities that we support.

Senator RHIANNON: Advice to ensure that the bills don't impact on our international reputation or the aid program—is at a fair summary?

Mr Isbister : In terms of the department obviously being focused on the issues in the white paper around our roles and ensuring the aid program meets its objectives—yes, that's part of providing advice to the drafting of the legislation.

Senator RHIANNON: And the need for the draft to change?

Mr Isbister : No. As I said, it's draft legislation. We've provided input into a whole-of-government process around the drafting of it.

Senator RHIANNON: On another, related bill—the espionage bill—did the department provide advice to the government regarding the proposed extension to the definition of 'national security'?

Mr Isbister : I might pass that to one of my colleagues.

Senator FAWCETT: While we're waiting for that colleague to come forward, can I ask for clarification around the point that Senator Rhiannon's been making. Will the proposed changes to Australia's electoral laws stop charities from delivering overseas development aid?

Mr Isbister : No.

Senator FAWCETT: Will they still be able to undertake advocacy in Australia?

Mr Isbister : They'll still be able to undertake advocacy in Australia using funds raised from Australian sources. The only limitation is from funds received overseas.

Senator FAWCETT: Is that consistent with the actions of previous governments in terms of stopping political advocacy using overseas funds?

Mr Isbister : I couldn't comment on that.

Senator FAWCETT: That's fine.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon?

Senator RHIANNON: I'm just waiting for the answer to the question about espionage.

Mr Sadleir : Would you mind repeating your question?

Senator RHIANNON: In relation to the espionage bill, did the department provide advice to the government regarding the proposed extension to the definition of 'national security'?

Mr Sadleir : This is a matter on which the Attorney-General's Department leads, so I'd refer the questions to the Attorney-General's Department, and I'd note that DFAT participates in whole-of-government processes around these sorts of bills. But I also should note that it's currently before the PJCIS.

Senator RHIANNON: I appreciate what you've said about the Attorney-General's, but did DFAT provide advice to the government about the extension to the definition?

Mr Sadleir : DFAT's involved in whole-of-government processes, but AGD has the lead on the matter.

Senator RHIANNON: In a subsidiary role, did you provide advice?

Mr Sadleir : I'm happy to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: What representations from Australian organisations, if any, have been made to DFAT in regard to the three bills before parliament? There are three bills: the electoral funding bill, the espionage bill and the transparency bill. Did you look at them together?

Mr Isbister : The department as a whole looked at them, but obviously they impact on different parts of the department. As Richard said, they've had a lead on the other two and we've particularly looked at the issues around the first part—the electoral reform legislation.

Mr Sadleir : I'm not aware of any particular representations, but I'm happy to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to move back to Cambodia and ask some questions there.

Mr Isbister : Just to clarify—your question is in relation to whether there has been any representations to us from NGOs?

Senator RHIANNON: No, my final questions there were: has DFAT made representations or have you looked at those three bills together and given comments on them collectively? All these bills interact, and that's what I was trying to understand—if you've not looked at them singularly but you've looked at them together.

Ms Adamson : All I can do is repeat Mr Sadleir's advice that when a bill is being drafted by the Attorney-General's Department—typically their role—that has potential implications or in which other departments have interests, we work on a whole-of-government basis to develop that legislation, but the actual drafting of it is always done in the Attorney-General's Department. Then they go through the process that you're very familiar with at this end—the committee stage—with potential amendments and those sorts of things.

Senator RHIANNON: You've taken part of that on notice, so I'll wait till that comes back. I would like to move back to Cambodia to some related questions, please. Can you outline the Australian government's concerns regarding the crackdown on democracy currently occurring in Cambodia.

Ms Heckscher : The government is deeply concerned by the political situation in Cambodia, particularly the actions that have been taken to restrict media, constrain civil society and repress the opposition ahead of the 29 July national election. This includes the arrest of the Cambodia National Rescue Party opposition leader as well as the banning of opposition figures from engaging in politics and the closure of a number of independent radio stations. We have expressed our concerns on these events. We mentioned the foreign minister's statement on 17 November earlier. Since then, we've continued to express our very strong concerns to the Cambodian government. I understand that 11 formal representations have been made since the last estimates, in fact, through our embassy and through other many and varied engagements with the Cambodian government.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the foreign minister raised it—

CHAIR: We're now starting into the lunchbreak. Have you got many more on this? Because what we can do is adjourn and come back to you after the lunchbreak.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. Can we come back?

CHAIR: In light of it being 12.30, the hearing will now adjourn for the lunchbreak. We will resume at 1.30 with Senator Rhiannon.

P roceedings suspended from 12:31 to 13:32

CHAIR: Good afternoon everybody. This hearing is now resumed. Senator Rhiannon, you have the call.

Senator RHIANNON: I'd like to continue with some questions about Cambodia. Has the foreign minister raised the crackdown on democracy in Cambodia directly with the government there at a ministerial level?

Ms Heckscher : In recent times, the embassy has, of course, been constantly raising concerns over a lengthy period of time with the Cambodian government at different levels. The foreign minister issued a statement in November 2017 which raised those concerns. I'm not—

Senator RHIANNON: Was that at a ministerial level?

Ms Heckscher : The foreign minister issued a statement on 17 November.

Senator RHIANNON: And that was to her counterpart.

Ms Heckscher : She issued a public statement—a media statement—on 17 November expressing deep concerns.

Senator RHIANNON: But was a public statement sent to her counterpart in Cambodia?

Ms Heckscher : Well, it was made public. It was published.

Ms Adamson : Normally, the embassy and the ambassador would seek to draw any statements that are made by ministers to the attention of the local government to ensure that they couldn't be missed.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you confirm that that happened? Can you confirm that that was sent to the—

Ms Adamson : Yes, we can do that.

Ms Heckscher : I would also say that on 20 November the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Minister Fierravanti-Wells, raised Australia's concerns to the visiting Cambodian minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries. On 21 November last year, then Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Minister Hartsuyker, raised Australia's concerns to the visiting Cambodian minister for agriculture as well, and, as I say, there have been many, many engagements by our embassy with different levels of the Cambodian government on this throughout the course of this year as well.

Senator RHIANNON: What you're reporting here is that the highest it has gone, in terms of ministerial representation, is to the agriculture minister or fisheries minister from Cambodia. Is that correct?

Ms Heckscher : When they were visiting.

Senator RHIANNON: Has DFAT had any discussions with counterparts in Indonesia or France, or at the United Nations, about reinvigorating the mechanisms under the 1991 Paris Peace Accord that I understand would enable a response to the crisis in Cambodia?

Ms Heckscher : Perhaps I can say, generally, that our embassies and representatives overseas are constantly engaging with like-minded governments on any and all manner of human rights issues and other issues on a daily, regular basis. I couldn't say, absolutely, which governments they have been discussed with, but these sorts of concerns are discussed all the time. You asked about the reopening of the Paris Peace Accords. I don't know whether that, in particular, has been discussed.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you take it on notice? That was a very significant agreement that would allow some progress on this issue.

Ms Heckscher : Perhaps I can clarify that the reopening of the Paris Peace Accords—I'm assuming that's what you're asking about—

Senator RHIANNON: Yes.

Ms Heckscher : is a matter for the UN Secretary-General. I'm not aware that the UN Secretary-General has a process in place to do so.

Senator RHIANNON: I understood that Australia could make representations on that, having been involved initially in that. Could you take it on notice, please?

Ms Heckscher : I can say that we haven't received any request from the UN Secretary-General for consultations. So there is no current process.

Senator RHIANNON: I thought Australia could make a request to that effect, make a request to the United Nations to reactivate the 1991 Paris Peace Accord. I thought we had standing to do that. That's what I'm asking to be taken on notice, please.

Is it the department's view that Cambodia's July elections will be free and fair?

Ms Heckscher : We haven't yet had those July elections so it really is too early to comment. However, we had some elections on 25 February. Given the dissolution of the main opposition party, it really is hard to describe them as free and fair.

Senator RHIANNON: Is the department currently considering other measures to pressure Hun Sen to stop the crack down? Are you looking at targeted sanctions?

Ms Heckscher : We always have many options under review, and that is the case with Cambodia.

Senator RHIANNON: Is one of them targeted sanctions?

Ms Heckscher : All options are under review.

Senator RHIANNON: Given Hun Sen's systematic dismantling of independent voices, the seriousness of what is occurring in Cambodia and, particularly, in Phnom Penh, and his threats against the Cambodian community in Australia, shouldn't we revoke his invitation to the ASEAN Australia summit?

Ms Heckscher : We have expressed our concerns about the human rights situation in Cambodia many times. The special summit is a historic occasion. It's an occasion on which we can engage, in a very deep way, with all the leaders of the ASEAN region on many issues. It provides us with an opportunity to discuss at length issues that might arise, whether it's bilaterally or otherwise. Apart from anything else, if we want to engage with ASEAN we can't simply engage with one or two or three countries of ASEAN, we need to engage with all 10 of the ASEAN countries.

Senator RHIANNON: I'd like to move on to asking questions about the Rohingya in Myanmar, please. Can you provide us with an update on the UN fact-finding mission and, specifically, has the committee been allowed full and unfettered access to the Rohingyas in Myanmar?

Ms Heckscher : Whilst I'm waiting for details on the exact fact-finding mission, I can tell you that the fact-finding mission is due to present an oral update to the Human Rights Commission later this month, 12 March, and will submit its final report in September. I don't have full details on exactly what access they have been able to have, but no doubt we will get clarification of exactly what they have seen, who they have been able to engage with, when they present their report on 12 March.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice whether the committee has been allowed full and unfettered access and the other matters you raised that, I understand, you said will be released in the report on 12 March?

Ms Heckscher : Rather than taking it on notice, perhaps we could wait until 12 March, because they will make a formal statement, which I assume will be public, and clarify exactly what arrangements they have had and what access and engagement they have had.

Senator RHIANNON: Could that be forwarded to the committee, please, on 12 March. Amnesty International recently put out a report on the situation of the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar. They say that ethnic cleansing is continuing. They are seeing forced starvation, the abduction of women and girls, robbery and sexual violence. What's the department's response to the report?

Ms Heckscher : We don't have a specific response to Amnesty, we have a general response to the issues of human rights within Rakhine State.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you elaborate on that, please?

Ms Heckscher : I can. If what you're asking for is the Australian position, in relation to the situation in Myanmar with the Rohingya, I can provide that to you.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Ms Heckscher : I can also give you a little update on what we understand the situation is, including the numbers involved, if that's helpful.

Senator RHIANNON: That would be helpful, and if you could include whether it is safe for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar.

Ms Heckscher : I can address that as well as provide you with an update. I will start by saying at the outset that it is quite difficult for us to provide a completely comprehensive picture on exactly what has happened and is happening in Rakhine, as access to some of the affected areas is severely limited. You may be aware, Senator, that there were some bombings on 25 February. They have been reported in the media and they targeted government officials in Sittwe, the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine State. Three bombs exploded. Security officials also seized three unexploded devices. No group, so far as we understand, has yet claimed responsibility. We understand that security operations against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army have concluded, although there continue to be some reports of forces conducting raids against suspected ARSA targets, and ARSA claimed responsibility for an ambush of government forces on 5 January earlier this year.

With an update on the numbers, according to UNOCHA, the estimate as of 25 February is that 671,000 Rohingya, mainly women and children, have sought refuge in Bangladesh since 25 August. That is a slight revision from an earlier figure they had provided. I gather it's not because any have left, it's because they have got a more accurate number now that they have had a chance to count up. OCHA have also reported that Bangladesh was already hosting a verified population of 212,000 Rohingya from Myanmar. They were there before the current crisis—that is, since August last year. The current estimates are that there are around a total of 900,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh. The 2018 interim humanitarian response plan, which was published in November 2017 and compiled by the UN Country Team, indicates there are over 831,000 people in need in Myanmar, with 660,000 in Rakhine State of whom 530,000 are Rohingya, and 129,000 remain in IDP camps. All continue to face severe challenges: accessing food, livelihoods and basic services.

I note that most UN agencies and international NGOs continue to face some access constraints in northern Rakhine state. On that, I don't know, Senator, if you have caught up on the fact that Myanmar's Minister for International Development spoke at the HRC on Wednesday night, our time, and clarified that there had, on 23 February, been a meeting with the UN. I have the report here. The reference to the UN engagement is: 'On 23 February 2018, the Myanmar authorities held a meeting with the UN Resident Coordinator and the country representation of UNHCR and invited UNDP and UNHCR to jointly assist Myanmar government’s efforts in carrying out livelihood development for all communities in Rakhine and for repatriation and resettlement of the displaced persons respectively.' So we may see some developments in relation to access. I just wanted to update you on that.

All of those difficulties are impeding the provision of humanitarian assistance and limiting the ability of humanitarian actors to assess needs in Rakhine state. The Red Cross movement and, to a lesser extent, the World Food Program are the only large humanitarian organisations currently operating there. There are also humanitarian access constraints in central Rakhine state but on a lesser scale. There are some other, smaller humanitarian organisations operating, and I don't have the full list of those.

The Australian embassy is closely monitoring the situation in Rakhine. Our deputy head of mission in Yangon visited northern Rakhine state on 9 February to observe the repatriation preparations. It was part of a Myanmar government organised visit by Yangon ambassadors. There was a statement issued after that visit by the ambassadors who went on that trip. During that visit they interacted with local communities and government officials and saw the facilities the government of Myanmar has built in anticipation of potential returns. There were earlier visits to the region which our embassy was invited to and did participate in, but they were not so recent, so I won't go into detail on those unless you wish me to do so. The Myanmar government is making efforts at reconstruction and progressing plans for returns. However, many issues need to be addressed if returns are to be sustainable. You asked if our view is that the conditions are such that in that state they would enable returns.

Senator RHIANNON: Is it safe?

Ms Heckscher : Our assessment is that at the current time that's not the case. The conditions don't currently exist to support the safe, dignified and secure return of Rohingya.

Senator RHIANNON: The British government has suspended all military cooperation with Myanmar. Has Australia considered doing the same?

Ms Heckscher : The engagement that Australia has with the military is relatively small. I think we've had this question come up a few times in previous estimates. Australia maintains an arms embargo on Myanmar, and the defence engagement continues and is relatively limited. I'm just trying to find the exact details of what that is, but it is very small. However, in our view, the continuing military engagement is very important. Engaging with the military, which still has a particular role in the political situation in Myanmar, is a channel through which we can both engage with the military and also work with the military in the development of and to support the further democratisation in Myanmar.

Senator Payne: I can add slightly to that, if I may, Ms Heckscher. Ms Heckscher is quite correct: it is a very modest engagement. It is focused on helping them to understand international law, to professionalise their military approach. Ms Heckscher is also correct: we do have an arms embargo in place. Our focus is on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief—the HADR activities and skills that Australia is particularly well versed in—on peacekeeping training, on aviation safety and on English language training. We don't conduct bilateral exercises. So we consider that engagement on a case-by case-basis.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand Aung San Suu Kyi will be here for the ASEAN summit. Does the department intend to raise concerns about the treatment of Rohingyas by the Myanmar regime?

Ms Heckscher : As I mentioned a little earlier in relation to the ASEAN special summit, the visit by leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, provides us with an opportunity for extensive conversations about issues during the visit. I would expect that this issue will be something that we will discuss with Aung San Suu Kyi during her visit to Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the Australian government made any contact with Israeli counterparts around the arrest and detention of Ahed Tamimi, who was detained on 19 December and continues to be held while she awaits trial?

Mr Neuhaus : Yes, we've had contact on that case.

Senator RHIANNON: What was the context for the contact, please?

Mr Neuhaus : I will go into more detail on that. It's been raised by our embassy in Israel.

Senator RHIANNON: Was it raised that this young woman should not be held, because if she was in a civil court in Israel she wouldn't be held in this way? Was it raised that she should not be held?

Mr Neuhaus : This is not the first of these sorts of issues which we have raised on several occasions. We always raise them consistent with broader human rights concerns, particularly in the case of minors, as we've discussed in other Senate estimates hearings.

Senator RHIANNON: Did you raise that the trial should not occur in a closed court?

Mr Neuhaus : I can't say precisely what was said at that time, but, as a general position, that is something we're not comfortable with.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you take it on notice to release what the statement was or, otherwise, what the contents of the statement were? Can you take that on notice, please?

Mr Neuhaus : I could, but the discussions are, in fact, private, but we'll give you as much detail as we can.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. Will the Australian government insist on having an international observer attend the court hearings of Ahed Tamimi to ensure a fair trial takes place?

Mr Neuhaus : We do attend some cases. I can't say at this point whether that would be one that we would necessarily attend.

Senator RHIANNON: But you will consider attending?

Mr Neuhaus : We're certainly prepared to consider it.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the Australian government raised concerns with Israel regarding the other Palestinian children currently held in Israeli detention? I understand there are about 350 Palestinian children held in Israeli military jails?

Mr Neuhaus : We have consistently raised the issue of minors in detention, yes.

Senator RHIANNON: What does 'consistently' mean, please?

Mr Neuhaus : That means: on occasions when we meet. I myself meet with the ambassador here fairly frequently, but it happens more frequently at our post in Tel Aviv.

Senator RHIANNON: Again, does 'frequently' mean: once every six months?

Mr Neuhaus : No, more frequently. We make representations every one or two months on a range of issues, but that is one in which we have been quite frequent.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

Senator PATRICK: I'd like to raise some matters in relation to Mr Gurry and WIPO.

Ms Adamson : The World Intellectual Property Organization?

Senator PATRICK: That's correct, and he's the head of that organisation.

Ms Adamson : Yes, he is. I'm trying to think which department it would be that's responsible—

Senator Payne: For the World Intellectual Property Organization it could potentially be Attorney-General's, I would have thought.

Ms Adamson : I know who he is, but in terms of—

Senator Payne: It's not you though?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator Payne: It's probably AGD, but that's me guessing. It's not Defence or Foreign Affairs. That we can guarantee.

Senator PATRICK: The Australian government has definitely given support. Minister Bishop gave support—

Ms Adamson : To his candidacy?

Senator PATRICK: Yes, to his candidacy.

Ms Adamson : Certainly, from that point of view. I thought you meant a detailed World Intellectual Property Organization matter.

Senator PATRICK: No, my apologies.

Ms Adamson : No, not at all.

Senator Payne: Keep going, Senator.

Senator PATRICK: Are you aware, Secretary, that Mr Gurry has been accused in the US Congress and US congressional hearings of being corrupt, and it appears he has sold equipment or provided equipment to North Korea and to Iran? Are you aware of those allegations?

Ms Adamson : I am aware that a wide range of allegations have been made against Mr Gurry, yes. But I make no comment at all about the validity of those allegations. The director-general, secretary-general, visits Australia, normally, at least once a year. I sit down with him and we talk about a range of intellectual property issues and the global rules based order, which is, I suppose, what we would discuss. I can't speak with any authority about those allegations, which I understand have been strenuously rejected, but I'm not in a position to make any independent comment on them.

Senator PATRICK: Are you aware that the US Congress has, in a bipartisan manner, called for Australia, and I quote, 'to expunge its bad apple'.

Ms Adamson : No, Senator. I'm not aware of that.

Senator PATRICK: Are you aware of the widespread condemnation of Mr Gurry's actions, including in relation to the transfer of American computer equipment to North Korea in circumvention of UN and US sanctions?

Ms Adamson : I know Mr Gurry. I know that these allegations have been made, but the fact that they have been made does not prove their validity. Can I just say that Mr Gurry has been reformer in that organisation. That organisation needed reform and, when one is trying to institute reform of an organisation, one occasionally encounters people who don’t agree with what one is trying to do and they make a range of allegations. It is my understanding that that situation describes Mr Gurry's circumstance.

Senator PATRICK: You are aware, of course, that he was investigated, but that investigation was carried out by the very organisation that he heads and the report was essentially tendered to him.

Ms Adamson : We don’t have a responsibility for internal workings of WIPO. That’s why I'm not being joined by any other colleague at the table.

Senator PATRICK: No-one's volunteering.

Ms Adamson : I do know that he's a high-performing Australian in the international system and that allegations have been made against him. He has mentioned those to me and he has refuted them, but that's as far as I can help you.

Senator PATRICK: This is an official who was appointed, I think by Minister Smith in the Labor government first up and then is supported by Ms Bishop, just as she'd come into office. She would have been new into office. Surely, in the circumstances where the Australian government has endorsed a candidate and there are serious allegations roaming around that have been traversed in great detail before the US Congress—and I might point out that he refused to turn up on the basis of an immunity—are you not in any way concerned about how we might deal with these allegations as a responsible state?

Ms Adamson : We regard highly the work that Mr Gurry does in the World Intellectual Property Organization. I am informed that there are, in fact, colleagues in our office of trade negotiations who might be able to shed more light on this, but they are not due to appear until after 6 o'clock this evening. So, if you would like to raise them again, I have a colleague who can assist, but I do know, from Mr Gurry himself, that he strongly refutes those allegations.

Senator PATRICK: I understand that. I understand you might be saying that someone works extremely hard, works extremely well—

Ms Adamson : I'm just saying he refutes the allegations.

Senator PATRICK: Absolutely. Of course, that's fine too, but just because someone works hard and performs well doesn’t mean that you can ignore serious allegations. If anyone in Australia were to transfer computer equipment to North Korea they would go to jail. So these are really serious allegations.

Ms Adamson : There might be rather more to this than meets the eye, but I'm very happy, in the course of the next couple of hours, to check and see if I can find someone who can respond in more detail to the allegations that you've raised.

Senator PATRICK: Perfect. Chair, you'd allow me to come back to that later?

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator PATRICK: I have a couple of quick questions on East Timor. I'm just wondering if you could provide some details on the agreement that's taken place in relation to the treaty—

Ms Adamson : Certainly, Senator. We did that this morning, but we would be happy to do it again.

Senator PATRICK: No. If it's on the Hansard, that's fine.

Ms Adamson : Yes, it is.

Senator PATRICK: Can you confirm that the treaty will be tabled in the parliament?

Ms Adamson : Senator, all treaties that Australia signs and then seeks to ratify are tabled in the parliament.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much. Moving now to Military Court Watch. You might recall you had a conversation with former Senator Xenophon back on 31 March 2017. I don't expect you to remember exactly the details, but it was in relation to the unlawful transfer of prisoners out of the occupied territories in violation of Article 76 of the Geneva Convention. You said on evidence:

I think Mr Neuhaus was about to say that he had very recently taking over acting in this role. I am sure he would be happy to check on that and get back to you as quickly as he can.

…   …   …

I always make it a personal practice to reply to correspondence as promptly as possible but I would need to have a look at the facts of the issue that you have raised.

This was in relation to a letter that was sent to the department on 2 December 2015.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator PATRICK: Have you replied to Mr Neuhaus—sorry, to Military Court Watch?

Ms Adamson : I do recall the exchange that you've just mentioned; I recall it quite well. I'll turn to Mr Neuhaus. I've got a recollection of the subsequent discussion, but I'm sure Mr Neuhaus's recollection will be clearer than mine.

Mr Neuhaus : Yes, I very much recall that. When we looked into it, though, we did not have the letter received that you mentioned. We have followed up on the matter. I am not sure that, at this point, I can give you a full answer, but that was the extraordinary thing. We went back quite some time and did not find any evidence of the particular letter.

Senator PATRICK: Would you take that on notice then to have another look? So, I presume—

Ms Adamson : Senator, we just couldn't find it. We'd say, certainly, to Senator Xenophon, and if you were asking the same: we did the very best we could; we could not find any reference to it.

Senator PATRICK: In essence, you're saying the letter should be retendered to you?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Mr Neuhaus : I'd be happy to confirm that we will respond if it is retendered to us.

Ms Adamson : Promptly.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you very much.

Mr Neuhaus : I guarantee that.

Senator PATRICK: I will move on to questions in relation to Mr Downer and Mr Papadopoulos, if anyone can help on that front. Good afternoon, Mr Green. You're aware of the general theme of the matter that I'm referring to?

Mr Green : There has been some discussion in the media, yes.

Senator PATRICK: I have got some quick questions in relation to that. On what date did Mr Downer meet with Mr Papadopoulos?

Mr Green : The question you are asking relates to ongoing and high-profile investigations in the United States.

Senator PATRICK: Yes.

Mr Green : Discussing this matter entails the risk that we might prejudice or be perceived to prejudice those investigations. For those reasons, we should not do that. It also relates to potentially sensitive matters in our bilateral relationship with the United States. For those reasons, the department does not believe that it's in the national interest to discuss this matter. We would look for your and the committee's understanding on this sensitive issue.

Senator PATRICK: You're an expert in the field, so I'm not necessarily going to challenge that perspective. However, maybe that won't apply to all my questions. Can I just wander through them and, if you're uncomfortable, just say, 'I'd rather not answer that'?

Mr Green : I fear that I'll have much the same response to the questions, but, by all means, I'm happy to try to assist you.

Senator PATRICK: Fantastic. So you are not comfortable with the date? Isn't that in the public domain?

Mr Green : The matter you speak about has been in media reports. The government has been at pains not to discuss to confirm or deny anything in relation to this matter, because of the very serious risk of prejudicing or being perceived to prejudice ongoing and important investigations in the United States.

Senator PATRICK: Alright. The venue for the meeting, is that a national cause for concern?

Mr Green : I can't add to my previous answer.

Senator PATRICK: Did Mr Downer claim any expenses in relation to that meeting that he had? Surely that's not—

Mr Green : I can't provide any better answer than the one I've already given you.

CHAIR: Senator Patrick, Mr Green has been very clear that this matter is currently under investigation.

Senator PATRICK: Sure.

CHAIR: There'd be very few questions about this, if any, Mr Green, that you'd be in a position to talk about at the moment?

Mr Green : I think that's right, Senator.

Senator PATRICK: That's only because of the investigations pending in the US—is that right?

Mr Green : That is the dominant reason, yes.

Senator PATRICK: So once that's concluded, we can come back to this. I might point out that I asked similar questions of PM&C two days ago and they were comfortable in answering those—in fact, they took a lot of them on notice—but you have a different view.

Ms Adamson : We do.

Senator PATRICK: I might come back to that. Do you have any feel for when the investigation might conclude?

Mr Green : I wouldn't want to comment on that.

Senator PATRICK: So there's no communication between the US government and the Australian government as to whether or not—I presume you're assisting the US government or the FBI in their investigation?

Mr Green : That would be a matter for another department and I wouldn't comment on it.

Senator PATRICK: That doesn't normally come through DFAT? What mechanism of exchange or what would be the medium for a US official to contact Australian officials to get support? Perhaps from an Australian ambassador?

CHAIR: Sorry to interrupt you, Senator Patrick, but given the very clear sensitivities that Mr Green has raised with this particular issue, what we could do is ask the department to advise the committee when the issue has been investigated and resolved. If need be, we could have a private briefing on it or raise the issue at another time.

Senator PATRICK: Okay. I'll leave it there, Chair.

CHAIR: Any other questions?

Senator PATRICK: No, that's it. If I can come back later to the other—maybe the secretary can help me with knowing which outcome to come to on the other, that'd be appreciated.

CHAIR: That raises a good point. For the benefit of secretary and staff, after doing an assessment of colleagues who would like to ask questions this afternoon, it may be more efficient for our time frame if we have the senators who want to come in to come in. There are so many different issues now, so rather than having the same senators coming backwards and forwards, and with your indulgence, Secretary, we'll keep going and have senators ask their questions as a group and then leave, rather than coming back.

Ms Adamson : We're here for you. We will answer the questions in whatever order you wish to ask them. The only thing I would say is any matters relating to the Trade areas of responsibility broadly are six o'clock onwards. Otherwise, we're all here in number, obviously, in order to be able to answer any questions that you have. I'm sure my colleagues would be happy with variety, because they all love talking to you!

CHAIR: Rest assured, we will be finishing at six o'clock and then moving to Trade after the break.

Senator GALLACHER: Sorry, Chair, but there is concern about the amount of time that people get in the discourse at estimates. That means that this agenda needs to be fluid. The alternative is that we move to an additional week of additional estimates. We can't be saying 'six o'clock, everybody goes'. It's fluid.

Ms Adamson : No, Senator; I will be staying until nine or 10 or however long you want me here for.

Senator GALLACHER: I'm with you until 11 o'clock.

CHAIR: Senator Gallacher, just to be very clear: I have had discussions with colleagues on all sides and it seems to me what I outlined is the most efficient way up until 6 pm, and then we will move, after the dinner break, to the Trade portfolio. The officials have been very efficient today in the way we have gone through the process, and I think that would be the most efficient way to do it through to 6 pm. We'll then adopt a different approach with Trade.

Ms Adamson : That's absolutely fine. We genuinely are here to assist the committee.

CHAIR: So, Senator Patrick, do you have any more questions?

Senator PATRICK: No, I just need to be told to come back.

Senator FAWCETT: Secretary, I just want an update on the measures that were brought in during December last year around passports and people who are child trafficking. Is implementation complete? Is it underway? What are the outcomes to date?

Ms Adamson : If it's all right with you, I will ask one of my colleagues from our Passport Office to speak to that.

Senator FAWCETT: Who I'm sure is very happy to speak to us according to your testimony.

Ms Adamson : Exactly. They do tremendously good work in the Passport Office, and I'd like to give them an opportunity to talk about their work.

Mr Tysoe : Senator, would you mind just repeating that question?

Senator FAWCETT: It's about the overseas travel by child sex offenders, the act that was brought in last December. I'm interested to understand whether the implementation is complete; what effect it's had to date, if any; what measures to make that effective, if any, are still outstanding?

Mr Tysoe : I wouldn't say the implementation is entirely complete at the moment. We do rely on state and territory governments and authorities to provide competent authority requests. But what I can report is that it's working well. The border arrangements and the measures that were put in place by the legislation are in place and working. There have been a number of offenders who have been stopped at the border and prevented from travelling—

Senator FAWCETT: How many? One, two, 10, 20?

Mr Tysoe : The numbers at the border? We're told that 13 offenders have been detained and prevented from departing. We understand that one of those offenders has also been charged by the AFP because under the new provisions, as of late last year, it's an offence or a crime to attempt to leave the country if you are a registered sex offender. I'd say that the mechanics are working well. Sex offenders, for the first time, do have to seek the permission of their relevant state authority before they're allowed to travel—that's in place, that's working. The minister has cancelled a number of passports and also, more importantly, registered sex offenders are being prevented by a range of measures from leaving the country.

Senator FAWCETT: You mentioned the implementation wasn't complete because some of the input from states is not complete. Is that uniform across the nation? Is it one state in particular? Or is it just a case of there's more work to be done?

Mr Tysoe : I'd say there's more work to be done. It's really settling down. Bearing in mind that the legislation only came into effect in mid-December, states and territories are working through arrangements for the bulk transfer of sex offenders. Regrettably there is something like 18,000 registered sex offenders on the register. We are working closely with the states and our expectation will be that, in the near future, all those 18,000 offenders will be reported to us at DFAT and that we can place alerts in our system for those people who don't have a passport or seek to cancel the passports of persons who do hold passports. But, as I say, it's 10 weeks into the process. Arrangements are in place for the bulk transfer. We've tested the procedures; they're all there and working. It's really a matter for states to work through their own particular procedures and arrangements to provide us with that bulk of information.

Senator FAWCETT: Can you clarify: the 13 people who have been arrested had a valid passport in their name, but hadn't sought the permission of state authorities to travel?

Mr Tysoe : Just to correct that: they weren't actually arrested. The 13, as we understand it—we don't look after the border, but we were advised—were prevented from travelling. All those 18,000 registered sex offenders, their names are now registered at the border. If they attempt to depart without the permission of their state or territory authority, they will be prevented from doing so. Those 13, we understand, were prevented from departing the country.

Senator FAWCETT: So if they had permission, that would be recorded at the check-in point at the border?

Mr Tysoe : That's right, but it's up to the states to decide, based on the particular circumstances of the offender, whether they're prepared to allow them to travel.

Senator FAWCETT: Secretary, coming back to the foreign policy white paper: in looking at our diplomatic presence overseas, it was making a fair point about our presence and investment. We are towards the end of this year's budget cycle. As we look into the future, what are your achievements to date and what are your plans on the back of the white paper in terms of expanding our diplomatic presence overseas?

Ms Adamson : Thank you very much for the question. Australia currently operates 117 overseas posts, and 106 of those are DFAT-managed. The other 11 are Austrade-managed posts. I'm sure that most members of the committee know what these posts do. They help us build vital contacts, interpret events, identify underlying trends and advocate for a wide variety of our interests. Where we are is actually quite important to us.

Since late 2013 the government has implemented the largest diplomatic footprint expansion in 40 years. Over the next 10 years, in line with the foreign policy white paper, I think it's the government's intention to continue to open more missions. I know that's something that the foreign minister has said publicly. To do that, obviously, we are going to need to become—and we are in the process of doing this—more efficient and cost-effective in the technologies that we use, particularly around the corporate support for posts. That is why we've implemented—we are now into the second tranche, the second year—a program called reDESIGN, which effectively sets up hubs across the world, with spokes, smaller posts, to those hubs, and has corporate support provided in that way.

Clearly the government's focus of attention is in the Indo-Pacific. That very much aligns with the white paper. Of the recently opened posts, I point to Phuket, Makassar, Lae and Rabat—beyond that but in a part of Africa where we've got some quite promising trade and investment interests as well as a range of other interests—Surabaya and Bogota. It's important to be able to take advantage of growing markets in South America as well. This is not without challenge, given the budgetary environment that we are in, given the understandable priority that the government attaches to budget repair, but we are looking for ever more efficient ways to ensure that Australia is represented in the places where we most need to be represented. I think it's clear that this does help with the government's jobs and growth agenda, apart from anything else.

Senator FAWCETT: In terms of efficiency and value for money, I notice the media commentary about Australia House in London, which is coming up for its 100th anniversary—which is fantastic and it's a wonderful building. I don't think my colleague Senator Gallacher will mind me mentioning we had a good discussion yesterday about investment in infrastructure in both the Defence and the DFAT context. I can't help but contrast the refurbishment in Paris, which is actually earning some income, with Washington, where, in Senator Gallacher's words, we still have the 'postbox' and that's about it. How do we avoid that situation where infrastructure that we buy or build deteriorates so quickly that we can't celebrate the 100th anniversary? How do we maximise the chances of actually getting income to offset the cost of ownership and maintenance of buildings? Do you have a strategic approach to that real estate management?

Ms Adamson : I'm going to invite my colleague Kevin Nixon, who heads up our Overseas Property Office, to talk about the broad strategy, but clearly in what I was referring to just now in terms of our expansion, most of our new posts would not be in anything like the sort of accommodation of the high commission in London or indeed the embassy in Washington. Very often these days it's part of a floor in an office building. Particularly in many of the big capitals of Asia, that's an entirely appropriate way to do it. I would emphasise, though, for the committee that our No. 1 priority, as you would expect, is the safety and security of our staff. When we are looking at sites for a new presence, or a new embassy, security concerns are absolutely paramount. When it comes to the issues that you've just raised, including value for money, longevity, the ability to earn rent from other partners, I'm going to hand to Mr Nixon.

Senator FAWCETT: I don't want to take away from the fact that it's a good news story in terms of increasing presence. It's just that, if we're going to do it with good use of taxpayers' money, I am interested to understand your plan and your approach around that.

Ms Adamson : Sure, and I should add again that, for the new missions, co-location is always a live option. Where we have an opportunity to co-locate with a like-minded partner, whether it be the United Kingdom, Canada or New Zealand, of course we will do that. We are very mindful of the budget envelope and the fact that taxpayers expect value for money.

Mr Nixon : We very much develop a portfolio strategic plan to look at the forward requirements or refurbishment, cyclical upgrades of space, building, plant and equipment associated with the missions we operate overseas. In a number of instances, some of the repairs and maintenance are quite predictable and there's a very defined plan associated with those. Then more broadly we identify the future needs or, as I said, major capital investment and upgrades in our assets to ensure that we can fund those and have the internal capacity to deliver those works.

Senator FAWCETT: Do you benchmark with multinational corporates, for example, who may have infrastructure around the world, to check that what you're allocating in terms of your sustainment budget is adequate but, at the same time, not excessive?

Mr Nixon : I think it's fair to say that the mix of the portfolio that we have—that includes both the residential component and what you'd typically refer to as a commercial component—makes some elements of benchmarking against normal commercial indicators—perhaps not as robust in their indicative measures, but we do apply those assessments or indicators to get a sense of where we're at. We do also undertake some benchmarking against other Five Eyes governments to get a sense of where they're at, and we're very closely engaged with our counterparts in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Global Affairs Canada, state department et cetera. On a number of measures, I think we'd recognise that we will step up in the next couple of years if our forward budgets indicate an increase in allocation of funds.

Senator GALLACHER: You've got $1.8 billion worth of property?

Mr Nixon : We in fact have about $2.9 billion worth of property.

Senator GALLACHER: What is your recurring expense for maintenance and upkeep?

Mr Nixon : On the current figures, for minor capital works and the typical repairs and maintenance, it is in the order of about $42 million per year.

Senator GALLACHER: How does that benchmark against another icon property portfolio?

Mr Nixon : Typically, I think we would suggest that we should be seeking to increase that to about two per cent of the portfolio.

Senator GALLACHER: I think that's the point that is consistently made to you, that when you do bring projects, particularly into the public works committee, it is always to address an urgent recurring failure to properly maintain some of our icon properties.

Senator STERLE: That's a statement, not a question.

Senator MOORE: Do you agree?

Mr Nixon : I think I'd make the point that if you looked at the value of the portfolio—as I've indicated, of about $3 billion—and then you looked at some of the major assets within that, they're quite new. Some of those are under defects liability period, some are under maintenance periods that are provided by the head works contractor. Therefore, the need and the requirement for investment—because they're new assets—is not as pronounced as for some of the other assets.

Senator GALLACHER: I'm familiar with Bangkok and Jakarta, which would be up for about $700 or $800 million of your portfolio. But, the remaining fact is that even in Greece we faced the proposition that we couldn't get a good deal despite the Greek economy collapsing. Even though we were probably one of the best tenants in the world, we still had to pay the most money. We've been through all that, so I won't delay the man.

Senator FAWCETT: ISIS and the meeting: we had a brief yesterday from the minister, who was speaking in her capacity as defence minister, but I understand that the foreign minister was also involved in the Kuwait meetings.

Ms Adamson : Yes, we can brief you on those.

Senator FAWCETT: Yes. To get DFAT's perspective would be useful. Thank you. Secretary, I'm also interested, from DFAT's perspective, not just to understand the current battle in the Middle East but to look at our region—the Philippines, Indonesia and other regional countries, for example—

Ms Adamson : That's a very sensible question—

Senator FAWCETT: and potentially then further as we look at the deteriorating situation in the Middle East in Syria and Lebanon at the increasing polarisation between communities there that are morphing into or out of ISIS. Are we reviewing our positions on things such as Hezbollah, for example, and how we define them? Are we making announcements? I haven't seen, for example, an announcement about Iran's activity, with incursions into Israeli air space. Unlike the UK and the US, who were very strong on that, we seem to be silent.

Ms Adamson : There are lot of very good questions in there. I'm not sure how long we've got, but I'll ask Matthew Neuhaus as Acting First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, to start at least with the Kuwait meeting. Some of the broader issues that you've just raised are perhaps best picked up by Paul Foley as our Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism.

Mr Neuhaus : Thank you for that question, Senator Fawcett. I just want to highlight again what the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said to the House on returning from the Kuwait meeting where she made the point that this was an important meeting and it was very good she could be there with 75 nations of the coalition and that, whereas we celebrate, of course, the progress made in Iraq, there is still work to be done. I think this was also highlighted in the estimates yesterday with Defence. This is why we stay engaged. Even though it's been possible to remove the strike aircraft, there are still other aircraft assets. There's training of the Iraqi forces. I think that training has been remarkably successful because the heat and burden of the day fell on the Iraqi forces as they successfully fought back against ISIS in the course of the last year or two. But Australia does remain committed with that coalition. We are also able, while that struggle continues, to move into a reconstruction phase in Iraq. That's a very welcome development. We are providing humanitarian support to Iraq in that context as well. Perhaps I should allow you to ask some further questions.

Senator FAWCETT: We have had Defence's view around the kinetic side of things. I'm interested to understand, from our diplomatic engagement, where we are going with those nations but also particularly with our regional nations, as we see ISIS and their supporters splinter back out into places like the southern Philippines and potentially into other regional countries. That's one part of the question. The other was: as these various groupings seem to change, are we re-evaluating our assessment of, for example, Hezbollah and its nature? The final question I asked the secretary was: why, for example, have the US and UK made very strong statements about actions of strong backers of groups such as Hezbollah with the incursion into Israeli air space while Australia seems to have been silent on that? I'm interested to understand DFAT's position.

Mr Neuhaus : I will answer a couple of those, but then it will move into other areas. First of all, with regard to re-evaluation, we are constantly re-evaluating and ensuring that what we are doing fits with the moment. Indeed, we are going to be looking at this again in the course of this year in the National Security Committee. We will be working with our Defence colleagues and other relevant people in the system on that. But we do realise that—and this has been the decision of the NSC at the present time and will continue to be as they move forward—that we must stay engaged in the Middle East space, even though, as you say, there are other parts of this struggle in Afghanistan and the Philippines. Others will comment on that.

Specifically with regard to Hezbollah and the drone attack that happened, yes, we did not make a statement. We do not always make statements absolutely in parallel with the UK and the US, but what I can assure you is that I myself met with the Israeli Ambassador very shortly after that. He has since met with both the secretary and the minister this week. This came up in those discussions. Israel was very happy with the response we had in affirming our commitment—a commitment, by the way, that comes through the foreign policy white paper to Israel and its security and integrity. We don't feel that we would have to make a statement on every incident that might happen. That was a serious incident, but, thankfully, for now it has not deteriorated further. Israel took a very firm stand there, and I think the right thing was done at the time, but there was no call from them for us to make a statement. It wasn't seen by them as necessary.

Senator FAWCETT: In terms of articulating: DFAT's position, and therefore I assume the government's position, is that you support Israel's right for self-defence and we condemn—perhaps that's too strong a word—the incursion by a foreign power into their airspace.

Mr Neuhaus : Very true.

Ms Adamson : Absolutely.

Mr Foley : Just to pick up some of the broader points on ISIL, as has been noted, ISIL has taken some big hits in Iraq and Syria. They've lost, I think, 98 per cent of their territory, but that does not remove the ISIL threat. There are still fighters in the region, including foreign fighters. They still have a range of effective franchises around the world, including a self-identified franchise in South-East Asia, and they still have very effective propaganda mechanisms, although that has been degraded significantly. Senator, you'd probably be aware that the international community in particular is putting a lot of effort into dealing with the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon to try to ascertain where they are, prevent their onward movement and dealing with them. That's something that Australia is involved in, along with our coalition partners.

In terms of the region, as you'd know, Senator, the terrorist threat in the region is still regarded as significant and is likely to endure for some time. The emergence of ISIL several years ago energised a lot of extremist networks in the region. We saw a lot of foreign terrorist fighters from the South-East Asian region head to Iraq and Syria. And, of course, we saw the events in Marawi. ISIL was able to inspire a group of extremists to come together and capture that city. That's now been recaptured, thanks to assistance from a range of friends of the Philippines, including Australia, but the threat continues because some of those individuals are still active in the region and it does act as an attraction point for regional extremists. So certainly, as you'd expect, Senator, the Australian government is very involved across the board in helping our friends in the region deal with those threats. Really, it's a whole-of-government effort.

Senator FAWCETT: My question was not so much about seeking an update on the current situation, but, for example, a number of analysts have looked at Marawi and said that one of the biggest threats to future terror would be a slow rebuilding exercise, in terms of restoring normality. I'm interested to understand, for example: are we having initiatives in our foreign aid budget or our engagement with the Philippines to look at engineering, town planning, and ways to expedite the rebuilding and re-establishment of their economy and community.

Ms Adamson : Absolutely, we are. The point you made about Marawi is a really important one. Although a battle was won, a war continues. The devastation in Marawi has been so complete that it's expected to take over a decade to rebuild. Our relevant agencies and departments are concerned at the potential for, as you say, a rebuilding of the terrorist capability in that area. We're also very well aware of the need for capacity-building; poverty alleviation; the creation of employment opportunities—all the hallmarks, if you like, of our development program—counter-radicalisation; and capacity to deal, through the courts, with those who have conducted terrorist acts. Almost from every possible angle there is a need for work to be done in this area. We have a significant aid program in the Philippines, directed particularly at Mindanao on the southern Philippines. If you are interested in hearing more detail, I will ask my colleague from the head of the South-East Asia division to come and speak to you about it. But what we're looking to do is increase the proportion of our aid program in the Philippines, which is devoted to dealing in a multifaceted way with the problems of Mindanao. We are very aware of the risks that are currently posed both locally and more broadly, and potentially to Australians in the region.

Senator FAWCETT: Sure. I can see the chair getting fidgety on my left because of the time. Perhaps I can ask if we could get a private briefing.

Ms Adamson : Yes, we'd be very happy to do that.

CHAIR: I think the whole committee would appreciate a briefing on that. Thank you.

Ms Adamson : Sure.

CHAIR: Before I hand over to Senator Gallacher, on a little bit of a personal indulgence, I would like to ask about an issue that has been very near and dear to my heart: orphanage tourism. There was no-one happier in this country than me this morning to see the announcement from the foreign minister and minister for education on the actions that the Australian government are now taking to raise awareness here in Australia, and to start changing people's behaviours to stop this trade and to make sure their volunteering is effective. I'm wondering if you would like to update the committee on what the department is doing in this area.

Ms Adamson : Certainly. I think during the lunch break you had something to say about this as well. I invite Mr Isbister to speak in more detail to your interest.

Mr Isbister : As you said, this morning the minister for education and Minister for Foreign Affairs put out a press release launching the campaign on smart volunteering. As you know better than anyone, it's an issue which has had increasing focus, over a number of years, on the risk of orphanages becoming a business model. Unfortunately, in a number of countries orphanages are often used for profit-making, and businesses and children are at times exploited with that. Over the past couple of years the focus has been on raising awareness about this issue, and on looking at how Australians, charities and organisations who—nearly always unknowingly—at times support these practices in orphanages, which unfortunately at times results in the exploitation and separation of children. Obviously this is an issue that's being looked at in the inquiry into the modern slavery act, which you're well aware of. The focus has initially been on how we bring awareness to those charities. There's been work with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, through our NGO partners, to raise awareness.

The launch of the campaign looks at how we take that out much more widely, including to the tourism sector, to bring their attention to this issue. Often they're involved in organising these tours. Again, they are unwittingly supporting, sometimes, these issues. It's also about trying to bring the risks to the attention of Australians who, either on sabbaticals or student vacations, put their hand up to volunteer. We are basically trying to stop short-term volunteering, where people are going overseas and supporting these orphanages and this potential trafficking of children.

The campaign involves sending letters out to all the education ministers, for them to be able to go out to the schools and raise awareness, as well as to the Universities Australia network, to the tourism industry and sector, and, as I mentioned, to the thousands of charities—often smaller ones, who have had long-term connections. It's not assuming that these organisations aren't doing good work, but it is trying to ensure they fully understand the risks and the issues with these, and that we're ensuring that any donations and volunteering is done in a way that is smart, fundamentally. Thank you, again, Senator, for your leadership on this. It's an issue that we know the foreign minister has been very strong on.

CHAIR: She has been.

Mr Isbister : It mobilised a lot of support in a short period of time.

CHAIR: Thank you. I don't know if people realise just how globally significant this is. The Australian parliament was the first one globally to recognise this as trafficking and slavery. And now the Australian government, through these actions today, has made Australia the first nation globally to implement and start tackling this problem. So, again, thank you and congratulations for that. Given the international nature of this, and that we now have many other countries and organisations like the EU looking at what we're now doing and at our findings—and I'm happy for you to take this on notice—what else can Australia do now that we've taken some global leadership on the issue? I know the CHOGM agenda is full. Given that the Commonwealth contains both sending countries—that is, countries who create the problem by sending people and money—and countries who have these facilities, is there anything else we can do around CHOGM, for example, to raise awareness and to provide some information on what you're already doing? Then perhaps you could look for follow-on events to take leadership, possibly with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or others, on how to tackle this.

Mr Isbister : Absolutely. I will quickly mention that there already has been sharing of information in the campaign with a lot of our like-mindeds, around what we're doing, and how they may look at taking it forward. The website is up, and it has links on it about how people look at smart volunteering. That's been made available to a number of our like-mindeds. Through some of the regional organisations and mechanisms, we're looking at how we can also raise awareness and consciousness. We'll take that on notice.

CHAIR: Take that on notice. I would be very interested to know which countries have already proactively contacted Foreign Affairs to find out more about what we're doing, and also what else you think we could do. We have such great bipartisan support on this issue, and great engagement with civil society. I think there's a lot we can do to keep working together on this.

Ms Adamson : One thing we would normally do where we are leading on an issue like this—or indeed any issue—is ensure that our overseas posts are not only informed about it, because they will know just through our normal communications process, but tasked to engage in discussions in the countries where our embassies and High Commissions are and, over a period of time, in person in the countries to which they are accredited. That will go a long way to, I think, spread the word in the way that you're looking for it to be spread. One thing I know is that, when someone undertakes good policy, people come pretty quickly to recognise it and want to know how we've done it, and what advice we might give them as they seek to do something similar.

CHAIR: Thank you. Please pass on my personal thanks to all of your officials who have worked on this. It has shown, I guess, great foresight and willingness to engage with the parliament but also civil society to do something so quickly. I'm very grateful for that. Senator Gallacher.

Senator GALLACHER: Senator Wong has the call.

Senator KITCHING: When we have the private briefing, could we also have an update on Ghouta and the effectiveness of the UN Security Council and its calling for ceasefires?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

Senator WONG: Can I return to where I was before the break. There was very lively jousting about the appointment of the High Commissioner to Britain.

Ms Adamson : I'm happy to deal with that question. And Ms Sachs, of course.

Senator WONG: Yes. I was waiting for her. I didn't know why you were not trying to get her to the table. I thought that was unwise. I think in response to my last question you confirmed that you were aware that the decision was going to be made but you weren't aware the decision had been made until you saw the article—is that right?

Ms Adamson : I was expecting an announcement of the appointment. That happened, I think, on the 19th as part of a prime ministerial press release. I think that was in the context of the cabinet reshuffle, where he said he intended to recommend to the Governor-General that Mr Brandis be appointed as Australia's new High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

Senator WONG: Let's set up the sequence again.

Ms Adamson : The 18th was the Monday.

Senator WONG: As at the 18th, there hadn't been any formal announcement and there'd been no statement from the Prime Minister or the foreign minister. At the time, the ABC was briefed that the appointment was to be made—correct?

Ms Adamson : The ABC reported that on the 18th, yes.

Senator WONG: Can we not play word games? We agreed previously there was no statement prior to that time—correct?

Ms Adamson : The statement was made on 19th.

Senator WONG: What was the statement on the 19th—can you table it?

Ms Adamson : It was a media release by the Prime Minister on 19 December.

Senator WONG: Can I have a copy?

Ms Adamson : Yes, certainly.

Senator WONG: I think that you said in answer to a question earlier—we can go back and confirm this—that you were aware that the appointment was being considered?

Ms Adamson : No, I was aware that the appointment was to be made that week.

Senator WONG: So had you been advised prior to seeing the article on the 18th that—

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: Do you want me to finish the question?

Ms Adamson : Sorry. You said prior to the 18th, and I said, 'Yes, I was aware.'

Senator WONG: That it was Senator Brandis?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: How were you made aware of that?

Ms Adamson : I was made aware—I'm trying to remember; it was just before Christmas—that the appointment would be made by both the foreign minister's office and the Prime Minister's office. I was in contact with both offices—

Senator WONG: Can you take on notice which office actually told you?

Ms Adamson : Certainly.

Senator WONG: Was it a call to you or a conversation—

Ms Adamson : Or a message of some kind—I'll have to check.

Senator WONG: Did you advise other DFAT staff?

Ms Adamson : I had a conversation with Ms Sachs around the precise sequencing then of Exco agreement in the normal way.

Senator WONG: What was the process by which this appointment was determined?

Ms Adamson : I can't say that—I mean, I don't know. These matters are for government to decide.

Senator WONG: Sure. I suppose I'm trying to understand: was there any departmental involvement in that process? Was there a brief to the minister with a set of recommendations as to a shortlist? Was there a cabinet submission prepared or was this done at the political level?

Ms Adamson : With all forthcoming head of mission vacancies, typically, some time out, I have regular discussions with the foreign minister about appointments over anything up to 18 months, depending on whether language training is required for a position.

Senator WONG: And in relation to this one?

Ms Adamson : In relation to London, I had had some discussions with the foreign minister over a period of time about the length of High Commissioner Downer's posting, the point at which an appointment would be made for his successor, as these things normally happen. That was all perfectly normal.

Senator WONG: Were you asked to provide any other options?

Ms Adamson : I always provide options.

Senator WONG: Were you asked to provide any names for the government to consider?

Ms Adamson : I always provide names for the government to consider.

Senator WONG: I'm asking in the specific: did you provide other names?

Ms Adamson : In the course of conversations with the foreign minister over a longish period of time, naturally enough, we canvassed a number of people who could potentially have been suitable.

Senator WONG: For this role?

Ms Adamson : For this role.

Senator WONG: Was Senator Brandis one of them?

Ms Adamson : I was referring to career appointees—I provide advice on career appointees, should the government choose to make an appointment of a career diplomat.

Senator WONG: I've got the Prime Minister's press release—this is a press release about the reshuffle, and this was run in the ABC. It says that early in the New Year he intends to recommend that he be appointed as the new High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Has that actually occurred?

Ms Adamson : Yes, it has.

Senator WONG: What are the dates on which that happened?

Ms Sachs : The Exco meeting happened on 8 February.

Senator WONG: What's the sequence here? On the 18th it breaks publicly—are you able to come back to me as to how long prior to the 18th you were advised of the decision?

Ms Adamson : I can tell you it was in the days before—

Senator WONG: Okay, so at some point in the week before—is that reasonable?

Ms Adamson : In the weekend before.

Senator WONG: It was a decision of the Prime Minister?

Ms Adamson : I don't know whose decision it was. When I say I don't know, these things are normally discussed between the foreign minister and the Prime Minister. That's how any government decides these appointments.

Senator WONG: Sure, but somebody has to make the decision.

Ms Adamson : And that's what I'm saying: I can't tell you who made the decision. These things are discussed—

Senator WONG: Does anyone know who made the decision?

Ms Adamson : We wouldn't know, because these are matters for discussion between the foreign minister and the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: I don't mind all that 'yes, she was involved' kind of thing. I actually just want to know who makes the decision.

Senator ABETZ: It's an iterative process.

Senator WONG: Someone has to make a decision at the end of the day, Eric.

Senator ABETZ: It's always an iterative process. It's always iterative, as, over many years, I have learned.

Senator WONG: And 'constant communication'. It's all very usual here. I know all of those words, but somebody has to make, in government, a decision which is then actioned so that the matter goes to ExCo.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: Who made that decision?

Ms Adamson : Who made that decision? We receive an instruction—

Senator WONG: From whom?

Ms Adamson : that the government wants to appoint a certain person to a certain post, and we prepare the ExCo documents.

Senator WONG: From whom did you receive that instruction and what date was that?

Ms Sachs : I think I received it from the senior executive.

Ms Adamson : Yes, I think there were discussions over that day. The foreign minister's office, the Prime Minister's office—

Senator WONG: Sorry, which day?

Ms Adamson : On most occasions, or many occasions, the foreign minister will be the decision-maker. I think she always consults the Prime Minister. For a posting like London, it would normally be the Prime Minister in consultation with the foreign minister.

Senator WONG: Ms Adamson, I just want to know—

Ms Adamson : I'm saying I wasn't there, so I don't know who—

Senator WONG: Well, then, can someone else answer the question?

Ms Adamson : We can try—

Senator WONG: Okay. So who prepared the ExCo document?

Ms Adamson : We prepare the ExCo documents.

Senator WONG: On whose instructions was the ExCo document prepared?

Ms Sachs : I normally receive instruction from my senior executive to do that, and I prepare it on the basis of that.

Senator WONG: Right, and did that happen on this occasion?

Ms Sachs : Yes.

Senator WONG: From whom?

Ms Adamson : Well, the government made an announcement—

Senator WONG: No, I'm asking the question: which SES person instructed you to prepare this?

Ms Sachs : The secretary and the deputy secretary.

Senator WONG: Right. And did you do that as a result of the communication that you have taken on notice?

Ms Adamson : The Prime Minister announced this on the 19th. I had a conversation with Senator Brandis shortly afterwards, and we went about then. The next ExCo was not until February. The documentation is normally prepared two weeks beforehand.

Senator WONG: Is the decision—which is, I suppose, the basis on which you then prepared the legal documentation and the ExCo—the Prime Minister's media release?

Ms Adamson : Well, effectively, yes. The media release, the conversation with Senator Brandis, discussion with—

Senator WONG: Senator Brandis can't have appointed himself.

Ms Adamson : Alexander Downer. It was announced, and as secretary I rang him an hour or so afterwards and talked about when he might want to start.

Senator WONG: I am going to come to that; don't worry. The actual ExCo on this was 8 February?

Ms Adamson : That's right.

Senator WONG: When does Senator Brandis's term actually commence as high commissioner?

Ms Adamson : We're in discussion at the moment about precisely what day he will start. That's the normal process for an outgoing high commissioner and an incoming high commissioner. The department's involved as well—looking at big events, dates, times and people's willingness to travel. I think the second week of April is what we're aiming for.

Senator WONG: Doesn't the ExCo document for such appointments usually indicate the date on which the appointment commences?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: Okay, so that's an admin thing.

Ms Adamson : Yes. It's based on, essentially, arrangements between the incoming and outgoing head of mission.

Senator WONG: Really?

Ms Adamson : Yes, it is.

Senator WONG: So what if Alexander never wants to leave?

Ms Adamson : That occasionally happens—

Senator WONG: It looks like it's happening now.

Ms Adamson : in which case I ring him up and I say, 'It's time to go.'

Senator WONG: When did Alexander originally want to leave?

Ms Adamson : When did he want to leave?

Senator WONG: When was his first pitch?

Ms Adamson : I think he's always been happy to stay.

Senator WONG: I gather! I think George gathers that too!

CHAIR: Can I just say, not to be fussy—

Senator WONG: We're being fine!

CHAIR: Not the banter—but in terms of referring to people by the appropriate title.

Senator WONG: Sorry, Mr Downer.

Senator Payne: Or 'His Excellency'.

Senator WONG: Oh, no! I'm from Adelaide. There is no way I'm doing that!

Senator Payne: So am I!

Senator FAWCETT: I'll tell you what, Senator Wong: I will refer to Mr Mike Rann as 'His Excellency'—

Senator WONG: No way!

Senator FAWCETT: and ask whether the process to appoint Mr Mike Rann was a similar process to what's being used now.

Senator WONG: Hang on, excuse me; I've got the floor. Jokes aside, I actually have the floor. What was Mr Downer's first pitch in terms of when he wanted to end?

Ms Adamson : Mr Downer's first pitch?

Senator WONG: What was Mr Downer's initial indication of when he wanted to end his term?

Ms Adamson : All our high commissioners and ambassadors serve at the government's pleasure. It's not a question of—

Senator WONG: Of course they do. I'm asking about your conversations with him.

Ms Adamson : I have the pleasure of supervising our senior heads of mission—

Senator WONG: I bet you enjoyed that on this occasion!

Ms Adamson : including those who are non-career diplomats, should I say. So when I go through their performance appraisals at the beginning of the year and the mid-term performance appraisals, we will often discuss, in a general sense, planning for when all of this might come to an end. So I had a number of conversations with High Commissioner Downer over a period of time—

Senator WONG: I bet.

Ms Adamson : about when a successor might be named and when he might be willing to go. He has been remarkably flexible and very helpful in agreeing to stay until, I think, April. I don't actually have his departure date but, with the leaders' portion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London, the Commonwealth summit, on 19 and 20 April, the plan is for Senator Brandis to be there in time to be able to greet and welcome the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: When did Mr Downer's initial term as high commissioner end? When was the initial end date?

Ms Adamson : People are normally—

Senator WONG: Secretary Adamson, I know you are defensive about this—

Ms Adamson : I'd need to check the date. It is normally a three-year term.

Senator WONG: You are a good enough operator to run the line when you need to; can we just not have it every answer? I just want some dates.

Ms Adamson : Sure. I'm looking for the date. I don't have the date in my hand.

Senator WONG: I'm trying to understand what the original term was and what the various extensions have been.

Ms Adamson : The norm is for high commissioners and ambassadors to be appointed for a three-year term.

Senator WONG: That would have expired when?

Ms Adamson : That would have expired, if it was absolutely exact, on 20 May 2017. That would have been the end of a three-year term.

Senator WONG: And then it was extended. To which date was it extended?

Ms Adamson : I had a discussion with him. I would have to check back exactly, but towards the end of 2016, I think, we had a conversation. I certainly would have done his performance appraisal around April 2017. We would have had then a discussion about whether he was willing to stay, if the government needed him to stay longer. Almost universally when that question is asked of a high commissioner or ambassador, career or noncareer, the answer is yes. So the three-year term is not fixed.

Senator WONG: You think approximately April 2017?

Ms Adamson : Around that, yes.

Senator WONG: He was asked by you to stay longer?

Ms Adamson : I had a discussion with the foreign minister about what the government was planning and that London would be due to come up as a vacancy in May 2017. So we started a discussion about who might be a suitable successor and what the government's thinking around that was. I don't want to appear to be difficult, but it's not a fixed thing.

Senator WONG: So this discussion with the foreign minister was in early 2017?

Ms Adamson : Yes, with the foreign minister and with High Commissioner Downer.

Senator WONG: Is it correct to say that the foreign minister indicated to you the possibility of Senator Brandis at that point?

Ms Adamson : No, it's not fair to say that.

Senator WONG: Okay. Was Mr Downer's commission term extended at the government's request? Who asked for it to be extended?

Ms Adamson : I was in discussion with him and said: 'The government will need to make a decision at some point about your successor. Are you willing to stay for the time being?' The answer was yes. Then a decision was made.

Senator WONG: Was that something the foreign minister had asked you to do—to extend his term?

Ms Adamson : I checked with the foreign minister before I spoke to Mr Downer about whether or not there was a likelihood that he would need to be asked to say. People have their own personal arrangements—

Senator WONG: I understand that. And she indicated yes?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: It was extended for how long at that point?

Ms Adamson : At that point it was more a question of, 'High Commissioner, are you willing to stay on should the government require you to do that?' 'Yes, of course.'

Senator WONG: Was there an indication of a putative new end point at that time?

Ms Adamson : I think I made it a sort of open-ended discussion, asking what his plans were and would he be able to stay if required, and he said yes.

Senator WONG: At an administrative level or perhaps any other formal level, was there a requirement to change any instrument or any document?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: So, at this stage, what was your understanding or what was Mr Downer's understanding about his end date?

Ms Adamson : I have just been told that my performance conversation with High Commissioner Downer was, in fact, 12 May.

Senator WONG: Eight days before the nominal end of the term?

Ms Adamson : No. We had spoken in January 2016. I speak regularly to our high commissioners.

Senator WONG: I understand that. I actually just asked for dates.

Ms Adamson : I spoke to him in January.

Senator WONG: No; that wasn't the question.

Ms Adamson : And in May.

Senator WONG: I would like to move off this. I just want to get some clear answers to simple questions. Term originally nominally ends on—and I'm not going to put it any stronger than that—on 20 May. There's a conversation on 12 May where you say, 'Can you go a bit longer?' I want to know what communication there was, what indication there was, about what the new likely end date would be at that point?

Ms Adamson : From memory, I said to him, as I had earlier that year when we spoke in January, I was not sure at what point the government would want to make a decision on his successor and asked was he able to be flexible and the answer was yes.

Senator WONG: Were there any further discussions with Mr Downer about the conclusion of his appointment prior to 18 December 2017 when that story ran—between you and him or the department and him?

Ms Adamson : We spoke when he was back for the Australia-UK ministerial meeting in, I think, was July, but I can provide advice on that. We would have then done a mid-term appraisal—our appraisal period runs from April through to the end of the next March. We spoke before Christmas. I think it was in late November perhaps.

Senator WONG: So late November. Did you give an indication to him, or did he give an indication to you, about when his term was likely to come to an end?

Ms Adamson : No. I said I expected the government would be making a decision soon and he agreed that that was his understanding too.

Senator WONG: Did he indicate when he wanted to stay till?

Ms Adamson : He was always prepared to be quite flexible. This is a normal process with many heads of mission—when will the changeover happen? You don't know anything for a long time, then you know and you move. That's how it works.

Senator WONG: To your knowledge, when was the appointment to the United Kingdom first discussed with Mr Brandis?

Ms Adamson : I don't know, Senator.

Senator WONG: When were you first aware that his name was in the mix?

Ms Adamson : There had been a lot of media speculation for a very long time, so I wasn't immune to that.

Senator WONG: You don't respond to media.

Ms Adamson : No, I don't but—

Senator WONG: When were you actually aware as opposed to from media speculation? When were you advised by anybody inside government, including other departmental officers from other portfolios, that Senator Brandis's name was in the mix?

Ms Adamson : It would have probably been, as I said, a couple of days before the appointment. I knew what everyone knew—that there were rumours that he would be appointed—but there was no formal discussion.

Senator WONG: That's one of those very careful answers about formal discussions.

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: Did you ever have a discussion with the foreign minister or her office or the Prime Minister or his office prior to 18 December about Senator Brandis being appointed and, if so, when?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: Do you know when the position was offered to Senator Brandis?

Ms Adamson : No, Senator.

Senator WONG: Can I ask the minister?

Senator Payne: I'm sorry, Senator?

Senator WONG: When was Senator Brandis offered the position?

Senator Payne: I'm not aware, Senator.

Senator WONG: Can you take that on notice?

Senator Payne: Certainly.

Senator WONG: I'm interested because he denied the likelihood of it on Thursday, 7 December in question time. There have been some suggestions that this post was offered to Mr Brandis on a previous occasion or previous occasions. Is there any truth to that, to your knowledge?

Ms Adamson : I have no knowledge of that.

Senator WONG: Minister?

Senator Payne: Nor do we.

Senator WONG: What are the core qualities you would search for in the appointment of a high commissioner to London?

Ms Adamson : The core qualities that I'd seek for the appointment of any of our heads of mission would be strong leadership skills, a keen interest, a quick mind, a broad knowledge of the issues—although that can come from a range of different sources. Certainly we've had a history of being very well served in some of our biggest overseas posts by people who've come to those positions from either ministerial careers or from other careers. So they need to be able to operate at the highest levels. They need to be able to command the trust, if you like, of the sending government and the receiving government. They need to have an active interest in the full range of work, whether it's trade, investment, culture, our strategic interest, defence interest, intelligence, obviously, with a five-eyes partner like the United Kingdom. There'd be a range of ways in which those qualities could be met, but essentially it comes down to outstanding leadership, I think.

Senator WONG: Including an excessive desire to correct people's grammar?

Ms Adamson : I can't comment on that.

Senator WONG: Do you think you need a politically big beast? Is that a core quality?

Ms Adamson : I have heard that said before. I acted very happily in the role for six months. I wouldn't regard myself as a big beast, but it could be done by—

Senator WONG: These aren't my words! This is the former Attorney-General. He said—

Ms Adamson : It could be done by people of a range of sizes, I would say.

Senator WONG: Well, this is what the former Attorney-General said:

The Prime Minister … he said to me … 'I want a big beast. I want somebody who is politically a big beast to occupy this job in London …

Do you agree with that assessment of the essential criterion for that appointment?

Ms Adamson : I think that, in appointments to Washington and London, above all others, one of the key qualities that the receiving state expects is that the head of mission will enjoy the absolute confidence of our Prime Minister and ministers, be able to connect with them quickly and readily, and be able to reflect their views accurately. And I have no doubt that Mr Brandis will be able to do that.

Senator Payne: Indeed.

Senator WONG: A politically big beast.

Senator Payne: Indeed.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I clarify that the process you've been discussing for the last 10 or 15 minutes would have been, in broad terms, very similar for the appointment of Mr Beazley to Washington, Roger Price to Chicago or Mike Rann to London?

Ms Adamson : That is correct. That is absolutely correct.

Senator FAWCETT: On a slightly less serious note, given that Sir Alick was the high commissioner in London when the UK was preparing to join the EU, is it not appropriate that Mr Downer was there as the UK prepares to leave the EU?

Senator WONG: Dynasties are the best way to ensure a meritocracy! See, that's why I'm a republican and you're a monarchist—because I don't actually think dynasties ensure meritocracies.

CHAIR: Senator Kitching?

Senator KITCHING: Minister, while we're on the topic of postings, could I ask about a report that surfaced in January that suggested that you might be tapped on the shoulder to take up the role of Australia's Ambassador to NATO and the EU?

Senator Payne: I don't comment on fantasy or fairytales.

Senator KITCHING: So were you tapped on the shoulder to take up that role?

Senator Payne: Self-evidently not.

Senator KITCHING: So you weren't approached by the Prime Minister, the foreign minister or the Department of Foreign Affairs to take up the role?

Senator Payne: I don't comment on my private conversations with the Prime Minister or the foreign minister, and I don't usually talk to 'a department', but I can assure you that at no stage has this matter been raised with me, other than through fantasy and fairytales in newspapers, to which you should attribute the same credit I do, frankly.

Senator KITCHING: We may well be on a unity ticket sometimes on that! Could I ask, Ms Adamson, were there any approaches made to Minister Payne?

Ms Adamson : By?

Senator KITCHING: By the government, in terms of her taking up an appointment?

Senator Payne: No.

Ms Adamson : Absolutely not—well, not that I'm aware of. I wasn't even aware that it had been reported—I'm sorry to say that.

Senator Payne: No, it's fine. You clearly have a higher level of reading material than Senator Kitching!

Senator KITCHING: I don't know. It was in TheFin Review.

Senator Payne: Disappointing, Senator, but nevertheless!

Senator KITCHING: Some call it the most anti-business business newspaper! I could quickly go to another story about another appointment.

Senator Payne: I'm not going anywhere else either.

Senator KITCHING: No, no—this is about former Senator Nash.

Senator Payne: Are you asking me?

Senator KITCHING: So if you're disturbed about TheFin Review you're going to be very disturbed about The Sunday Telegraph! This was on Sunday, 7 January. It said that the former Deputy Leader of The Nationals, Fiona Nash, was offered the post of High Commissioner to New Zealand. Is that correct?

Senator Payne: Not that I'm aware of, but it would not be within my purview to do that.

Senator KITCHING: Ms Adamson, is that correct?

Ms Adamson : No. I think High Commissioner Ewen McDonald's appointment had already gone through EXCO and he was preparing for the post.

Senator KITCHING: So there was no approach—

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator KITCHING: and obviously the High Court ruling that related to Ms Nash was on 27 October, so no—

Ms Adamson : I have no knowledge of that. It would be very strange for something like that to happen without me being aware of it.

Senator KITCHING: When did the position of High Commissioner to New Zealand become vacant?

Ms Adamson : I'm sure one of my colleagues will be able to give the exact answer, but it was when Peter Woolcott returned from Wellington to become the Prime Minister's chief of staff.

Senator KITCHING: When was the announcement made of a replacement?

Ms Adamson : I can get that for you very quickly. I'll see if I've got a colleague who has got the date of appointment. I can probably just search, as a matter of record, for the foreign minister announcing it, but I want to be accurate about this. Christmas period is a big changeover for ambassadors and high commissioners.

Ms Mansfield : Apologies—I don't actually have that exact date, but we can certainly get it for you.

Ms Adamson : We can get it for you during the afternoon tea break.

Ms Mansfield : It's on the public record, so we'd be able to find that for you quickly.

Senator KITCHING: If I could just put some of these appointments together: positions have been found for former Treasurer Hockey to Washington and former Senator Brandis to London; an appointment of former Senator Nash would have completed the trifecta if she hadn't been so determined to get her old job back?

Senator Payne: You can't possibly be expecting an official to respond to that.

Senator KITCHING: Minister?

Senator Payne: You can't possibly be expecting me to respond to that.

Senator KITCHING: The thing is that of course—

Senator Payne: This is actually budget estimates, Senator. You're traducing both yourself and the budget estimates process.

Senator KITCHING: And these are operational questions.

Senator Payne: Go right ahead. I'm sure you've got more.

Ms Adamson : I can say that the announcement of Mr McDonald as high commissioner to Wellington was made on 11 January. There was an EXCO process that would've been the December EXCO, I think; it was in train quite some time ago.

Senator KITCHING: The reason I raise these is of course that former Senator Brandis did rule out going to London for 15 months or thereabouts and then miraculously it happened. So we make these inquiries because that's a long period to deny, deny, deny, and then for it to happen.

Ms Adamson : Can I just say: I had no conversation with anyone, during that period, that told me, in any substantive way, that it would be Senator Brandis. I did not know until just before it was announced.

CHAIR: Senator Kitching, we will now take the afternoon tea break and then we will resume with Senator Hinch.

Proceedings suspended from 15 : 15 to 15:31

CHAIR: The hearing is now resumed. I have a little bit of housekeeping before I go to Senator Hinch. I've had some consultation with committee members, and we are changing the program slightly. Foreign Affairs will go through until the dinner break scheduled at 6:30, Trade will go from 7:30 to 8.30, and the program will continue as scheduled after the dinner break.

Ms Adamson : Can I clarify that Senator Patrick is all right with that? He had his WIPO question that we have been ready to answer—

CHAIR: Yes, he is. We'll liaise and make sure that that's all okay with Senator Patrick.

Ms Adamson : Okay.

CHAIR: Just to confirm, the only change is to the 6 to 6.30 bracket. We'll continue on with these questions and then go to Trade at 7.30.

Ms Adamson : Senator, with your agreement, could we please make one correction and then come back and provide an answer that we had promised to Senator Wong?

CHAIR: Yes, please do.

Ms Heckscher : Senator Wong asked a question earlier in relation to Cambodia and the department's engagement with the AFP. The question, from memory, was to what extent DFAT had been engaged with the AFP. At the time, I said that, whilst we had been aware of and received representations from the NGO community et cetera, we hadn't ourselves been involved with the AFP. I need to clarify that briefly. We were copied in on communications from the NGO community and individuals in relation to concerns raised by them about Prime Minister Hun Sen. In at least one case, we forwarded that on to the AFP—so, we did that. We have not, so far as I'm aware, been involved in any discussions with the AFP about that particular issue. We have, however, had some engagement with the AFP generally in relation to the ASEAN Special Summit. As is the normal course, we actually have conversations with AFP about security matters relating to the visits of such senior leaders. I really just wanted to clarify that we've actually had those engagements.

CHAIR: Thank you very much.

Senator WONG: Was there another one?

CHAIR: Was there a second one?

Ms Klugman : Just to tidy up a few points that we promised to chase down on Adani following Senator Wong's questioning. Senator, you asked about DFAT involvement in the drafting of the 15 November 2017 ministerial letter from Minister Ciobo and then Deputy Prime Minister Joyce. That was the letter tabled by former Attorney-General Brandis. I can confirm that DFAT Canberra did not draft and was not asked to comment on any draft letter. We saw the final letter when it was sent to our embassy in Beijing to convey to its destination. We do understand that Mr Ciobo's office made contact with our ambassador in Beijing, Jan Adams, on one occasion regarding the letter. Our ambassador did not have a draft of that letter; it was a telephone conversation only. You asked also about the Republic of Korea exchange. You asked for specifics on contact between the Adani company and DFAT in relation to the Korean Eximbank. I can confirm that the request from Adani was received by DFAT Canberra North Asia division—specifically, the assistant secretary of the North-East Asia Branch during an oral briefing he received from Adani on 13 October 2016. As I said earlier, DFAT Canberra then tasked our embassy in Seoul and asked them to go have a discussion with the Korean Eximbank. You asked what level that discussion was had at. It was a single meeting and it was taken at the level of counsellor economic. Our counsellor economic met Korean Eximbank on 27 October. The reference to November in earlier responses was a mistake.

Senator WONG: Thank you for that. I have nothing arising out of that.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for coming back so quickly on both of those matters.

Senator HINCH: I have a couple of questions for the minister. I hope, being a one man band, that you haven't covered this before. It concerns James Ricketson, who remains in prison in a Cambodian jail on allegations of espionage. He reportedly used a drone at a political rally, has been charged with espionage and has been held for some months there. Am I right in saying that our embassy staff would have been in touch with him early on, because he's complaining that he's in a dormitory cell with 200 other prisoners?

Senator Payne: He has certainly received consular assistance, but I will ask either Ms Adamson or Mr Todd to respond.

Mr Todd : Yes, we have been providing consular assistance to Mr Ricketson since his arrest on 3 June last year.

Senator HINCH: That's on his health and welfare issues?

Mr Todd : It includes a range of supports. We have made a good number of prison visits and checks on Mr Ricketson's health and welfare. We've been ensuring that arrangements regarding his medical treatment have been addressed, to the extent that they can be. We've had frequent contact with his nominated next of kin in Australia and in Cambodia, including providing updates to them on his case, and liaising regularly with his various legal representatives. We will continue to provide that service as long as he remains and as long as he requests it.

Senator HINCH: There was a request for the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, to get involved—correct?

Mr Todd : That is correct.

Senator HINCH: I've had a letter from Mr Ricketson. He said that four police officers took him down and showed him a letter from the minister in which she said, and I'd like you to confirm this, 'We have no intention of intervening in Mr Ricketson's legal case. This is for him and his legal team to decide.' Would that be accurate?

Mr Todd : That would be accurate.

Senator HINCH: And that's as far, of course, as the foreign affairs department could take it?

Mr Todd : That is consistent with the Australian government's consular services charter.

Senator HINCH: Could you tell me the date on which that letter was delivered to him? It seems fairly recent.

Mr Todd : It is very recent. The—

Senator Payne: I don't have a date, I'm sorry.

Mr Todd : The minister signed that letter to her counterpart on 2 February. We can confirm that it was delivered some days after.

Senator HINCH: Would I be right in assuming that the level of diplomatic attention you pay to him in Cambodia would be the same as you would offer to an accused drug dealer in Bali or somewhere else? Is that the way it would the work? I mean, virtually any Australian citizen gets some consular assistance, but that's as far as you go? The legal aspects of it must be his own—correct?

Mr Todd : That is correct. We make it very clear that we cannot intervene or influence the legal proceedings of another country. We certainly make it very clear that we can't have an Australian released from detention overseas, just as we wouldn't countenance in Australia another country intervening in our legal processes. We make it clear that the legal aspects of his case are a matter for him and his legal representatives in Cambodia.

Senator HINCH: That's fine.

Senator RHIANNON: Picking up on some of those issues, I was distracted when you spoke about the letter in a response to Senator Hinch. The information that I received, and you have just touched on this about the legal team, was that the letter contained the line:

We have no intention of interfering in James Ricketson's case. This is for him and his legal team.

Was that the wording in the letter?

Mr Todd : I would have to check that. I don't have a copy of the letter with me. We do make it clear that, due to our privacy obligations and the very longstanding convention of not releasing government-to-government correspondence, we are really not able to provide further details of the particular correspondence.

Senator RHIANNON: With regard to legal matters, I do understand when you are talking about legal framework in other countries. But when it is deeply unfair, how do you handle that? You are saying that a country has its own legal framework but in this case Mr Ricketson has been charged over a drone and it could carry a very heavy prison sentence. Do you take it up if it could result of an Australian citizen being jailed for a period of time that is out of balance?

Mr Todd : We make it clear to all Australian travellers before they leave Australia that when they visit another country they will be bound by the laws and the legal processes in those countries. We all know that not every country has the same legal system or judicial system or law enforcement system that we have in Australia. Under existing Cambodian law, it is possible for provisional detention for periods of six months to be extended under law three times, a total of 18 months. On 8 December, 2017, the Supreme Court extended his provisional detention for a second period of six months, until 3 June this year. And on 30 January 2018, the Supreme Court denied his application for bail. So he has been going through a judicial process in a foreign country with the support of his various legal teams that he has appointed.

Senator RHIANNON: In the case of the Australian journalist Peter Greste, detained in Egypt, I understand that the Australian government intervened at the highest levels with the Egyptian government. In that case, did the government make it clear that that Mr Greste's detention was a matter for him and his legal team?

Mr Todd : The cases of Mr Greste and Mr Ricketson are not the same. The times in which the Australian government intervened in the Greste case were after he had been convicted and found guilty of a particular charge and had been incarcerated on that charge. Mr Ricketson is currently under investigation by an investigating magistrate, has not yet been charged with an offence and has not yet been sentenced or dismissed under that offence. There are also other differences in terms of the offences that they were charged with, the nature of judicial systems. We took up high-level representations in Mr Greste's case after he had been found guilty of an offence and incarcerated for that offence.

Senator RHIANNON: When the leader of Cambodia is here, Mr Hun Sen, will the case of Mr Ricketson be taken up with the Cambodian leader?

Mr Todd : I'm not aware of what the Prime Minister may raise in his discussions. The Prime Minister is well briefed on this case and it would be for the Prime Minister to decide whether it is appropriate to raise it with Mr Hun Sen.

Senator RHIANNON: You said that Mr Ricketson has had a 'good number' of visits from consular staff.

Mr Todd : That is correct.

Senator RHIANNON: What does a 'good number' mean?

Mr Todd : It means 15.

Senator RHIANNON: In what period of time?

Mr Todd : Since he was incarcerated on 3 June 2017.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to move on to the Western Sahara please. Has the government discussed with the Moroccan government at ministerial level and ambassadorial level the issue of human rights abuses in Western Sahara?

Mr Neuhaus : We can say that this hasn’t been raised at ministerial level, but we are in constant contact with the Moroccan government. In fact, I visited Morocco recently myself.

Senator RHIANNON: When you visited, was the issue of human rights abuses in Western Sahara discussed?

Mr Neuhaus : Not in any detail.

Senator RHIANNON: Does that mean not at all? Was it just mentioned in one sentence? Could you provide more details, please?

Mr Neuhaus : Yes. We addressed a range of issues. I have to say, the issue of Western Sahara is a very sensitive one with Morocco. I would also say that this is an issue that the United Nations is pursuing.

Senator RHIANNON: What steps has the government taken to promote respect for human rights in Western Sahara?

Mr Neuhaus : We take steps to promote human rights throughout Africa and, indeed, the Middle East in our exchanges with relevant governments.

Senator RHIANNON: The question was specifically about Western Sahara.

Mr Neuhaus : Western Sahara is not an area of particular focus for us.

Senator RHIANNON: Will the government call for the release of the Sahrawi political detainees?

Mr Neuhaus : We have not made any calls for that at this time.

Senator RHIANNON: Will the government support the inclusion of human rights monitoring in the mandate of the UN mission in Western Sahara?

Mr Neuhaus : I think that is a matter for the United Nations.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering we will shortly be on the United Nations Human Rights Council, is this something that is being given consideration?

Mr Neuhaus : This could be given consideration in the context of the Human Rights Council. Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: From your responses so far, it sounds like human rights for the people of Western Sahara is not on the radar of the Australian government at all.

Mr Neuhaus : I wouldn’t say that, but it hasn’t been a major issue. Some other human rights issues in Africa have been much more on the radar.

Senator RHIANNON: So, if I have summarised it incorrectly, could you, just in one or two sentences, just say how it is on the radar and to what degree it is being addressed?

Mr Neuhaus : Well, we keep ourselves informed on the situation and we engage with the United Nations on these matters, but we leave it to the United Nations to take the lead on Western Sahara because they have a particular mandate there.

Dr Lee : If I could just add on issues on the Human Rights Council agenda, item 4 deals with countries of concern and Western Sahara is not there. So, at the moment from the agenda of the Human Right Council, item 4, Western Sahara does not feature.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you. I have a little bit more about Western Sahara. Incitec Pivot is the only Australian company that has not announced an end to importing phosphates from Western Sahara. You may be aware of the case recently where a ship full of phosphates—50,000 tonnes actually—was en route to New Zealand. It was detained in South Africa and became a court case. I understand the ship has still not been released. Considering the international law relevant to the exploitation of Western Sahara's natural resources and considering Australia's standing as a country that respects international law, will the government ask Incitec Pivot, IPL, to end its trade in phosphates illegally mined by Morocco in Western Sahara?

Mr Neuhaus : We have taken no action on that. I am not sure whether there is a direct interest. What I should say is there are international legal considerations in relation to importing natural resources from regions like this, given the non-self-governing territory considerations, and DFAT has published a notice on its website recommending that companies seek independent legal advice before proceeding with any importation from Western Sahara.

Senator RHIANNON: Has Incitec Pivot sought that advice?

Mr Neuhaus : I am unaware as to what they have done.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take it on notice to answer the question if they have sought advice, please?

Mr Neuhaus : We will seek to do so. I will take it on notice, but I cannot guarantee that we will actually know the answer to that because it is independent legal advice we're talking about.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering the South African case and there was a European court ruling last year that the Western Sahara should not be considered part of Morocco, could you inform the committee what the department's advice is to the government with regard to the standing of Western Sahara within Morocco?

Mr Neuhaus : We support UN efforts to find an enduring settlement for the people of Western Sahara and, during our time on the UN Security Council, Australia participated in regular consultations on the issue. We commend the ongoing efforts of the UN mission and the Secretary-General's personal envoy, who is attempting to resolve the issue.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to move on to the issue about the US decision to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem. There was a vote in the United Nations General Assembly last year condemning the US for its decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. We abstained on that vote and I noted at the time that our Ambassador to the UN Gillian Bird said that 'there was much in the resolution that we agreed with, but we abstained'. Can you elaborate on what was meant by that comment, please?

Mr Neuhaus : Our position on Jerusalem, as you know, is that it that needs to be left in the final negotiations for what we hope will be the two-state solution, which Australia has supported over the years and continues to support. In terms of the resolution referring to the two-state solution final negotiations, those are things that we would support in principle. However—and this is consistent with our long-standing policy—we did not feel it appropriate that this resolution be brought on in the UN General Assembly and so we abstained from the resolution.

Senator RHIANNON: You spoke about the peace process there. What is your response to the US decision and how it affects the peace process?

Mr Neuhaus : We're disappointed by the US decision. We think it complicates the peace process, but we still regard the US as playing a very important role and as a necessary player for any peace process.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand that in the Oslo agreements, and in other attempts to resolve these issues, it has been set out the final status of Jerusalem must be decided in direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Is that the position of Australia?

Mr Neuhaus : That remains the position of Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: Therefore we do have concerns about the US decision?

Mr Neuhaus : Yes. We do.

Senator RHIANNON: Has the government conveyed our concerns about President Trump's decision directly to the US?

Mr Neuhaus : We have indeed engaged the US on this. The minister herself has engaged the US on this matter, and around that resolution we had discussions with the US in explaining our position. And we explained our position both to Israel and to the Palestinian Authority in those discussions.

Senator RHIANNON: At what level was that, please? Was it a public statement or a press release? Or was it actually ambassador to ambassador, minister to minister.

Mr Neuhaus : Ambassador to ambassador, minister to minister is more appropriate. We try to avoid too many public statements, as we've already discussed on other issues today.

Senator RHIANNON: I imagine that the US urged us to vote with them?

Mr Neuhaus : Of course.

Senator RHIANNON: Or to at least abstain.

Mr Neuhaus : Yes, they urged us to vote against the resolution.

Senator RHIANNON: Did the US urge Australia to lobby countries in our region to also abstain or vote against the resolution?

Mr Neuhaus : No. As we made our position clear to them, it wasn't appropriate.

Senator RHIANNON: Australian embassy officials in the Pacific were not tasked with making representations on this issue?

Mr Neuhaus : No, but in New York we did make it clear how we were going to vote.

Senator RHIANNON: So we are expected to believe that it's pure coincidence that not one Pacific Island country supported the resolution, when the vast majority of other states supported it. The trend in the voting of those Pacific countries on these issues was different from how they've voted in the past. We had nothing to do with that change?

Mr Neuhaus : No. I can actually say we did not have anything to do with that.

Senator RHIANNON: In your view, were they contacted by the US? Was there a threat to withdraw aid—considering that was being spoken about?

Mr Neuhaus : I'm sure they were contacted by the US—I mean, the US was lobbying on this issue. I'm unable to comment as to any threats with regard to aid. I'm not aware of them.

Senator KITCHING: I want to ask some questions that relate to an article in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald. The headline of the article is: 'Julie Bishop defends omission of boyfriend from parliamentary records'. Has DFAT ever provided any support for David Panton?

Ms Adamson : Could you define 'support'?

Senator KITCHING: The support that you would give to someone travelling with, in this case, the foreign minister?

Ms Adamson : Mr Panton has on a number of occasions accompanied the foreign minister on overseas travel. He has always done so at his own expense. He's always made his own travel arrangements. When he has been with the foreign minister, there have been occasions when they have attended the same function. But there has been no additional cost to our overseas posts because of him accompanying her or being with her. They're very clear that he pays his own way, he makes his own arrangements, and that's understood across our system.

Senator KITCHING: Yesterday in Defence estimates we had a discussion around special purpose aircraft flights and the cost recovery mechanism, which is done at a normal commercial economy airfare.

Ms Adamson : Are you talking about domestic flights?

Senator KITCHING: I think the department is coming back with some more detail. That's right, isn't it Minister? I think they were going come back with some more detail.

Senator Payne: I took a number of questions on notice, certainly.

CHAIR: I think it might be better to wait until Defence have come back and actually confirmed rather than speculate.

Senator KITCHING: Has Mr Panton been on a special purpose aircraft where an invoice has later been issued?

Ms Adamson : Because we're the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—

CHAIR: Before you answer that, Senator Kitching, you did ask that of Defence. It is quite appropriately a question for Defence. They gave you quite a comprehensive response to that and they did take some further questions on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Yes. I'm happy to leave that—

CHAIR: I don't think it is appropriate for Foreign Affairs.

Senator KITCHING: Has DFAT ever provided any—I'll say 'support' again—for any members of David Panton's family?

Mr Purtell : The one occasion where that's been provided was in September 2017 with David Panton's daughter. Laura Panton was provided her ticket to a particular event, and that was collected at the same time as other tickets for the official delegation. That's the only occasion on which support's been provided.

Ms Adamson : So, no extra costs involved in Mr Panton or any member of his family. I can also confirm that, in fact, Mr Panton has not been on any SPA aircraft used internationally. The question that you addressed to Defence yesterday was domestic. Very occasionally for short-haul visits, principally, into the South Pacific, they may be used, but we can be clear with you that he has not been on those flights.

Senator KITCHING: You said a ticket. Is that a ticket to an event?

Mr Purtell : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: What event was it?

Mr Purtell : I would have to come back to you on that—I'd need to take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you. What support did DFAT provide to the foreign minister for travel to Kentucky during her trip to the United States last year.

Ms Adamson : Can you say when, Senator? If you can, we can help you.

Senator KITCHING: I think the foreign minister was in New York and then went from there to Kentucky. In any event, it was last year, 2017.

Mr Purtell : That was September 2017?

Senator KITCHING: Possibly, yes.

Mr Purtell : According to my records, the foreign minister travelled to New York and Washington in the September trip, not to Kentucky.

Senator KITCHING: Could you take it on notice and come back about Kentucky?

Mr Purtell : No problem.

Senator KITCHING: Can you outline whether there are any departmental guidelines regarding the use of social media by officials when travelling on official business overseas?

Ms Adamson : We have a social media policy which applies to departmental officers wherever they are. I can ask the head of the relevant division to talk you through that, if you'd like that.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

Mr Byrne : Yes, we have a social media policy for use of official social media accounts that applies regardless of whether officials are travelling or not.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you; that's interesting—that's on the DFAT website, is it?

Mr Byrne : I believe so.

Ms Adamson : Yes, it is. Sorry, on our website—

Mr Byrne : It's on the intranet.

Senator KITCHING: Would you be able to furnish the committee with a copy—is that possible?

Mr Byrne : I'm sure we can table that.

Ms Adamson : We can give you the main elements of it.

Senator KITCHING: That's sufficient. So there are guidelines for officials. Minister, would you expect that you and other ministerial colleagues—you'd also meet a certain standard in terms of the use of social media?

Senator Payne: What do you mean, Senator?

Senator KITCHING: We're at a bit of a disadvantage because we haven't seen the guidelines, but maybe if Ms Adamson can give us a key outline—

Ms Adamson : We encourage our staff to use social media to get out important messages or to publicise events. I've been through this with the committee previously in relation to some of our heads of mission but, broadly, we encourage them to be forward-leaning in tweeting and retweeting. The guidelines, of course, go to what is sensible—the difference between official use of social media and private use of social media, and the distinction between the two; and use of government resources, government time and those sorts of things. I'm not absolutely sure where you're going on this, but we encourage colleagues to be active in social media, particularly where they're in posts where there's a lively social media scene. We've had some very good ambassadors in Jakarta, Tel Aviv and elsewhere who have been very forward-leaning in their use of social media, and we encourage it.

Senator KITCHING: Is there anything in the social media guidelines or protocol—

Ms Adamson : There's advice to staff about how to engage with social media and the distinction between private and public use and also, obviously, there are certain purposes which it would not be used for, the appropriateness of content and other things.

Senator KITCHING: Are there rules against promoting a private enterprise, for example, for officials?

Ms Adamson : Could you tell me where you're heading with this?

Senator Payne: Senator, I go to businesses all the time and—I don't know what your point is either, so I'm sure you will elucidate in due course—I include the business in my social media messaging, tagging and those sorts of activities.

Senator WONG: And we tweet as politicians. I assume that DFAT officials would be discouraged from entering into any informal arrangement: 'I'll tweet a whole heap of good things about your enterprise if you do something for me'. That's a different thing to what the minister is referencing, which is turning up at—

Ms Adamson : It's a bit hard at the level of principle—

Senator WONG: SAAB and tweeting about having been at SAAB or Boeing or whatever. Correct?.

Senator Payne: Or a range of small and medium enterprises across the world.

Ms Adamson : There could be circumstances where, for example, an Australian week or a national day or some particular public diplomacy event is supported by various companies, and it would be entirely appropriate in a sponsorship setting or whatever. We have things to say about sponsorship as well, but I could well imagine a situation where there would be profile given to something in that domain.

Senator WONG: A sponsor—okay.

Ms Adamson : I'm still not quite sure where you're heading, but that's what I would say—

Senator WONG: Why don't you take on notice the parts of your social media policy which might deal with constraints or guidelines around the promotion of commercial entities.

Ms Adamson : Sure.

Senator WONG: Why don't we do it that way, because I think that encompasses the sorts of circumstances you're describing, as well as—

Mr Byrne : I will add that our social media guidelines explicitly only encompass DFAT officials. They don't cover, for example, a minister's use of social media. Their social media is a matter for them.

Senator WONG: So there are no guidelines associated with the use of social media for ministers?

Mr Byrne : Not departmental guidelines, no.

Senator WONG: Why do you proffer that?

Mr Byrne : The conversation started around discussion of ministers' use of social media.

Senator WONG: Okay.

Senator KITCHING: Can I ask some clarifying questions about Mr Panton. Has Mr Panton ever been provided consular assistance to transit through international ports?

Ms Adamson : Consular assistance is provided to Australians in need, according to our consular services charter. But I think I'd refer any questions relating to Mr Panton to the foreign minister's office. It's not something that the department can necessarily answer.

Senator WONG: I thought she asked about facilitation.

Ms Adamson : I thought she was asking about consular assistance.

Senator WONG: I appreciate that. That is reasonable—the first is reasonable.

Ms Adamson : I would have to take that on notice, or ask you to seek advice from the foreign minister's office.

Senator WONG: No, that is a DFAT support question. That's nothing to do with it. I want to be clear. I didn't overhear—sorry, I was distracted. On the consular issue, I think that's reasonable. But with the facilitation question, why is that referred?

Ms Adamson : If there is any facilitation—and facilitation is at such a granular level—I would need to take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Has Mr Panton ever been issued with or travelled on a diplomatic passport?

Ms Adamson : I'd have to take that on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Has he ever been provided with any personal support or a personal support person while travelling with the foreign minister?

Ms Adamson : I will take that on notice, too.

Senator Payne: I presume there is no question about the appropriateness or otherwise of the foreign minister being facilitated when she travels? Because she, of course, receives facilitation.

Senator WONG: Did anybody ask that question?

Senator Payne: I'm seeking clarification from you. I don't want there to be any implications. There is no extra assistance provided, as far as I'm aware, anyway.

Senator WONG: I know Senator Rhiannon asked questions about Australia's embassy in Israel. I have some related questions to that, briefly, and then I want to move to the conversation we were having about the letter from the DPRK Foreign Affairs Committee. You might recall that very interesting discussion we had last time.

Ms Adamson : Yes, we spoke about that last time.

Senator WONG: The letter was released by the foreign minister's office at a very convenient time. In the last estimates round, Ms Adamson—and I don't take any issue with this—you said:

We have an embassy in Tel Aviv; we don't lightly move embassies; Tel Aviv is the main location for diplomatic missions in Israel; and there is no intention on the government's part to move it.

That remains the government's position?

Ms Adamson : Yes, it does.

Senator WONG: You've confirmed that that there had been no consideration to moving the Embassy to Jerusalem, notwithstanding the new articulated position of the US Administration?

Ms Adamson : That's correct.

Senator WONG: Was DFAT or the foreign minister made aware—at any point post the decision of the US administration, has the government been provided with advice, in relation to any possible move of the Australian embassy?

Ms Adamson : Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator WONG: Is it the position of the Australian government that President Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital may facilitate a plan for peace?

Mr Neuhaus : We have taken no position on that as a government. There is an argument that says it adds to pressure.

Senator WONG: That's not the articulated position of the Australian government.

Mr Neuhaus : That is not the articulated position of the Australian government.

Senator WONG: Why is the Australian ambassador in Washington making such an argument?

Mr Neuhaus : I'm not aware of what the ambassador has said, in that regard.

Senator WONG: Mr Hockey is quoted by the ABC as saying on 8 December, 'Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital may facilitate a plan for peace.' Is that an expression of the Australian government's position?

Ms Adamson : Our position, as formally articulated, is that our own embassy is in Tel Aviv and we have no intention of moving it. The government expressed some disappointment when the original US decision was announced.

Senator WONG: Correct.

Ms Adamson : The ambassador in Washington is uniquely placed, in discussions with the US administration, to get a sense of what their thinking around it might be, but that's not a formal Australian government position. It doesn't, though, follow that it wasn't a sensible thing for the ambassador to say, given his engagement with the US administration.

Senator WONG: Why is it a sensible thing to say if it doesn't reflect the Australian government's position?

Ms Adamson : What I'm saying is he has access to the US administration. He's in conversation with them. There are those, as Mr Neuhaus said, who argue that but it's not something you would hear from Canberra.

Senator WONG: Surely, we have the same position in Canberra as we do in Washington.

Ms Adamson : We do, but Mr Hockey is engaged in conversations with the administration and he has very good connections into the White House. It is certainly the case—

Senator WONG: His job is not to reflect the US administration's position, it is to reflect the Australian government's position.

Ms Adamson : Yes, it is, but in terms of commenting on a move that had been made and the thinking behind it, the US government's position—that is a position that has since been articulated. It's not unreasonable to attribute that to President Trump and therefore not unreasonable, I would say, for Mr Hockey to have mentioned it or tweeted it.

Senator WONG: Were you aware of these comments?

Ms Adamson : Was it a tweet that you referred to?

Senator WONG: It was a tweet about Mr Hockey's comments.

Ms Adamson : Yes. I have said before that I follow Mr Hockey on Twitter.

Senator WONG: Did anyone ring him up and say, 'Actually, that isn't the Australian government's position'?

Mr Neuhaus : Certainly, I didn't, nor would I be in a position to do so.

Senator WONG: It might have been better if you had.

Ms Adamson : I'm sure he is well aware of what the Australian government's articulated position is.

Senator WONG: How do you know that?

Ms Adamson : Because all of our heads of mission are.

Senator WONG: But he's saying something different.

Ms Adamson : He is in conversation with the administration.

Senator WONG: There's a difference between understanding what someone's position is—

Ms Adamson : I agree.

Senator WONG: and making comment which references argument that is not the position of one's government.

Ms Adamson : No, but in order for me to give the verdict on this that you'd like me to, I would need to look very carefully at the circumstances. I'm happy to do that.

Senator WONG: I'd like DFAT to provide, on notice, any information they can about the full text of those comments and the circumstances of them.

Ms Adamson : I would always like to check with those who've made comments.

Senator WONG: We can do it all together. I look forward to budget estimates. I go to the DPRK. I go to question on notice No. 7.

Ms Adamson : From last estimates?

Senator WONG: I think that's right; supplementary. Yes. Context: there's a letter from the Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the parliament, which was sent to the foreign minister's office and was received by the foreign minister's office in October 2017. It has attached to it an open letter from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Supreme People's Assembly, DPRK. You will recall that we had a lengthy discussion on the last occasion—

Ms Adamson : I do.

Senator WONG: whereby it was clear that this letter was released to the public by the foreign minister's office, somewhat conveniently, during the period of the New Zealand conspiracy, and without reference to DFAT and without any advice being provided. I actually have a very simple question: where's the minister?

Ms Adamson : She was here a minute ago.

Senator WONG: I'm really a bit tired of getting the run-around on this. I did the right thing on the last occasion: I asked whose decision it was—sorry.

Senator Payne: I didn't get very far, Senator.

Senator WONG: Sorry, I'll just do this and then you can—

Senator Payne: I couldn't hear through the walls, so you'll have to repeat it.

Senator WONG: On the last occasion, Minister, I asked some questions about a letter from the DPRK which was released to the media with comment from the foreign minister. I don't think there's any conflict in the evidence that DFAT was not aware of the letter and only became aware of it through the public release.

Senator Payne: Yes.

Senator WONG: I then asked, essentially, whose decision it was to make the letter public.

Senator Payne: I can see that.

Senator WONG: Ms Adamson correctly said, 'That's a question for the foreign minister's office,' so I then asked the minister representing the foreign minister if he could take on notice who decided to make that letter public. He did and then I got the answer: 'Refer to the office of the foreign minister.' That's called the run-around.

Senator Payne: I come to this baseball game a little late—

Senator WONG: Thank you for recognising it is—it's a tennis match, actually.

Senator Payne: in terms of appearing here for the first time in a long time as the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs—

Senator WONG: Can you please take it on notice? I just object to—

Senator Payne: Allow me to take that on notice.

Senator WONG: Thank you. And I'm going to place this on the record: I object to asking the department, referring appropriately to the minister—given they've asked that to happen—and the minister's office coming back with the answer, 'Refer to the minister's office.' Frankly, it's pretty disrespectful to the committee.

Senator Payne: As far as I'm aware, the letter was—well, I was not part of that discussion. I'm not going to engage in conjecture. It may have been released elsewhere, but let me check.

Senator WONG: No. It was released to The Australian, I think it was, with comment from the foreign minister. So I ask a simple question about that.

Senator Payne: All right. Thank you.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Okay—I do want to ask about this question on notice. This was, I think, provided on the day before questions on notice were required to be filed. When was the draft of this question on notice provided to the minister's office?

Ms Adamson : We've got someone who'll be able to answer that question, I'm sure. So the question is when were the QONs provided—

Senator WONG: When was a draft of this QON answer first provided to the minister's office?

Ms Adamson : We normally provide them as a complete batch, but let me just check.

Senator WONG: Sure. Usually, it's a series of batches. Unless you wait.

Mr Byrne : The responses or draft responses to all 118 questions on notice in the Foreign Affairs portfolio were provided to the minister's office on 1 December.

Senator WONG: On 1 December. And when was this one finalised?

Mr Byrne : They were all tabled—excuse me, I just have to find the date here—on 9 December.

Senator WONG: Was there any change to this answer?

Mr Byrne : I'd have to take that on notice, Senator.

Senator WONG: We've already have had four months to get an answer as to who authorised the release. By the time we come back, it will be some more months. I'd really appreciate it if we could get an answer sooner than that. I think the minister is taking it on notice, so—

Ms Adamson : Certainly.

Senator WONG: While I was absent, was there any discussion of the engagement between DPRK and ROK in the context of the Winter Olympics?

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: It would be useful to have a brief assessment of the implications of that, your judgement as to the extent to which that's a constructive development and then I'd like to turn to some of the reports from this week of the possibility of talks. Are you able to give me—

Mr Fletcher : There seems to have been a bit of a change in mood in Pyongyang over recent months. The new year speech given by the leader had a change in tone from his earlier pronouncements. Surprisingly, the north was prepared to engage in some kind of contact with the south, which had earlier been sought by the south, since the election of the new president last May, but been denied by the north—interesting that the north decided to participate in the Winter Olympics, which had been offered to them previously by the south. They don't seem to have engaged in further dialogue on family reunions or direct military talks, which the south had also proposed but, during the course of the Winter Olympics, there was a suggestion that the President of South Korea go to the north for a summit meeting. That was an offer rather than—it hasn't been agreed, apparently.

From our perspective, one interpretation would be that the north is seeking to wedge South Korea away from its alignment with the United States. There's also a sense that perhaps the north is feeling the pressure from sanctions which are starting to bite and is looking for some alternative mechanism to cause trouble. Either way, from what we know of South Korea's view on this, they are very keen to pursue the pressure campaign under the leadership of the United Nations with the support of ourselves and others and, at the same time, explore what options there are for north-south dialogue.

Senator WONG: You gave, I think, two different interpretations of motivation. Are you able to give some judgement about which of those—you don't have to.

Mr Fletcher : They could both be true, frankly.

Senator WONG: The report I've got from USA Today, but there might have been others, is about the regime being willing to conduct talks with the United States. What can you tell us about that—this is the DPRK?

Mr Fletcher : That looks to be more appealing than it really is.

Senator WONG: More appealing?

Mr Fletcher : More significant than it really is. The north for a long time has said it doesn't want to mess around with denuclearisation or anything of that nature. It regards itself as a peer of the United States. It wants to talk as an equal about arms control, which, of course, from our perspective, is ridiculous. They're the ones breaking the rules, ignoring the international community's demands that they talk about denuclearisation. I don't think it's as significant as it might appear. The United States is very clear: it's prepared to talk to North Korea about the objective of denuclearisation or begin talks which end up with those kinds of discussions. It is not prepared to recognise North Korea as a nuclear power, and neither are we, and then deal with them on that basis.

Senator WONG: I will come to the Washington trip in more detail later, but I assume this issue of DPRK was discussed between leaders during the recent visit between the Prime Minister and the President?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: I assumed it continues to be part of our engagement with China—discussions on the best way forward in relation to pressuring the DPRK?

Ms Adamson : Absolutely.

Senator WONG: You previously provided a list of economic and diplomatic sanctions. Can you update those on notice.

Mr Fletcher : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can I turn now to the Washington trip.

Ms Adamson : The Prime Minister's Washington visit?

Senator WONG: Yes. It is more about DFAT's involvement.

Ms Adamson : Sure. I just want to make sure I've got the right person here.

Senator WONG: How long was the trip?

Ms Adamson : I think they left on Wednesday and got back on Monday morning. It's the difference between the time away and time spent there—

Senator WONG: Yes: lose a day and then gain a day, or the other way around.

Ms Adamson : given there's some 24 hours or plus travel in each direction.

Senator WONG: In terms of how the trip came about, was the genesis of this an invitation from the President? I just want to know how this was initiated. Where did it all start?

Mr Green : I'm not totally across this, but my understanding is that it was a proposal from the Australian Embassy in Washington.

Senator WONG: Right.

Ms Adamson : Initially, yes.

Senator WONG: Is there anyone who is across it?

Ms Adamson : Well, I am.

Senator WONG: I'm not trying to be mean.

Ms Adamson : Mr Green is correct. He's being too modest. He has taken on a new division. He does know that it was a proposal, initially, from our embassy in Washington.

Senator WONG: About when was that?

Ms Adamson : Quite some time ago. I think the embassy was looking ahead, as any good embassy would, at ways in which we would engage the US administration. The timing settled around this National Governors Association meeting. I think they're held twice a year. This one, obviously, has just been held, and I think there was an opportunity for us to, at prime ministerial level, ministerial level, business leader level and state leader level, engage with the governors. That was the original impetus, I think you could say.

Senator WONG: Can you, on notice, provide some additional information about the proposal from us? Was there a letter, a phone call?

Ms Adamson : Typically, ideas go backwards and forwards, are developed—

Senator WONG: I understand that. Of course.

Ms Adamson : and then it ended up with the Prime Minister being accorded very high official visit status and staying at Blair House for a longish period of time. These things build a bit. They can be a proposal embraced by the US side and offered at a certain level. They then get how important it all is and roll out the red carpet.

Senator WONG: Have you got an itinerary for the trip and details of meetings in which ministers took part?

Mr Green : Could we provide that?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Mr Green : Principally—

Ms Adamson : It's a Prime Minister and Cabinet program, so the details are for them. I think the Prime Minister has spoken on the record about who—

Senator WONG: I'm just asking: can you take that on notice?

Ms Adamson : We don't have the final program, necessarily, but we can talk to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet about that.

Senator WONG: The business delegation: are you able to give me the names of those who attended?

Mr Green : There were 20 CEOs. I may have their names with me.

Senator WONG: Why don't you table that. I've got a list of them. Are you able to table it? No?

Mr Green : I don't seem to have it with me, but I could get it by the end of the day.

Senator WONG: Did DFAT have any role in pulling together this business delegation?

Mr Green : It was very much an issue between the Prime Minister's department and, with its involvement, the embassy, I think. We were not involved in a heavy way.

Senator WONG: The embassy is DFAT, so what involvement did the embassy have?

Mr Green : I don't know that, Senator, but I could find out on notice.

Senator WONG: I think there are something like 26 people. There are three women. In fact, there are the same number of Andrews as women.

Ms Adamson : It's a common problem.

Senator WONG: Does the department have any focus on gender balance when it puts these sorts of delegations together?

Ms Adamson : We have a great deal of focus on that, and I must say—

Senator WONG: It wasn't so successful.

Ms Adamson : Ambassador Hockey normally has a considerable focus on it too. When the Prime Minister made his earlier visit to Washington when Ambassador Hockey was hosting, at least half the people at the table for a senior business dinner were women, and I know from my own experience Ambassador Hockey is tremendously supportive of women throughout the embassy and of the female contacts. He's a leader in the field, if you like. He works with Americans on it.

Senator Payne: I can attest to that.

Ms Adamson : Whether the embassy has genuinely taken the panel pledge on these things, I'm not sure.

Senator WONG: Can someone then explain to me: how come we've got three out of 26? Aren't there any businesswomen?

Ms Adamson : Sometimes, Senator, as you know—you'd have to look at the original invitation list. I'm sure it would have been—

Senator WONG: You can't give me any information today about how this list was compiled.

Ms Adamson : No.

Senator WONG: I would like that information. I would like to understand how they were selected to attend, who made the decision and the process by which this was the delegation. I know that the BCA were obviously engaged. Was the decision as to who was invited a decision of government, or was the BCA invited to select people?

Ms Adamson : I had a conversation with Jennifer Westacott about this. They were in the process of trying to assemble a delegation. The sense I had from my conversation with her was that the BCA was doing that. I must have seen an earlier draft list. There were a considerably greater number of women on that list than those who ultimately travelled.

Senator WONG: You did see an earlier draft?

Ms Adamson : Only because Jennifer Westacott rang me about another matter. She mentioned it; she said they were in the process of getting the delegation together. I must have had some visibility of who they had in mind, but I have no idea whether the final delegation was drawn from that list or not.

Senator WONG: At any point, was there any request or exploration of options to change the dates for the trip?

Ms Adamson : I think that's a question you'd have to put to Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator WONG: That you're aware of?

Ms Adamson : Not that I'm aware of.

Senator WONG: I was interested to see Mr Greg Norman being interviewed on 7.30 and his description of the relationship between Mr Turnbull and President Trump as having started off a little bit rocky. Would you agree with that? He appears to be a foreign policy commentator now.

Ms Adamson : That would be Mr Norman's comment. I think the Prime Minister now has an excellent relationship with President Trump.

Senator WONG: Now has.

Ms Adamson : He now has an excellent relationship and has had for some time actually.

Senator WONG: Since when?

Ms Adamson : One phone call does not a relationship make, Senator.

Senator WONG: So the bilateral relationship's in a good place?

Ms Adamson : Yes, it is.

Senator WONG: I notice Mr Norman is in a fair bit of social media in terms of events around the Prime Minister's visit. Is he there at President Trump's invitation or at ours?

Ms Adamson : I can't answer that question. I don't know. It may be both. He is obviously well known to the President. I saw the transcript of the press conference. The President recognised him. He has previously been involved in visits. I think he would describe himself as a friend to both sides.

Senator WONG: We're not paying him for any services or anything? He's turning up to these events, correct?

Ms Adamson : I think he is a very patriotic Australian.

Senator WONG: Yes. I'm just trying to check. Are we inviting him or are they inviting him? That's all I wanted to know.

Ms Adamson : I suspect he's probably getting double invitations to a number of things.

Senator WONG: In the course of the discussions that we referred to earlier, that you are going to come back to me on, on whether the visit was being worked upon, can you tell me at which point DFAT Canberra and/or the embassy became aware that Secretary Tillerson would be part of the meetings?

Mr Green : Yes, I can tell you that. We received confirmation of the full list of attendees for the lunch, which is I think the meeting that you're referring to where Secretary Tillerson was involved. We got full confirmation of that on 19 February.

Senator WONG: There are two points about that. The first is full confirmation. When were you first aware, DFAT Canberra or the embassy, of the possibility of Secretary Tillerson attending?

Mr Green : The information I have is that the time when we were aware that Secretary Tillerson would be at the lunch was on that day.

Senator WONG: I'm going to ask the same question, because that's not the answer. I said, when was DFAT Canberra or the embassy first aware of the possibility that Secretary Tillerson would be part of meetings associated with this delegation?

Mr Green : I don't know the answer to that question.

Senator WONG: Could you take that on notice?

Mr Green : I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: When was it decided that the delegation would include Mr Ciobo along with the Prime Minister?

Ms Adamson : It was some time earlier, given the nature of the governor's event, the focus on business and the accompanying business delegation.

Senator WONG: Some time earlier than what?

Ms Adamson : Some time earlier than the 19th. Earlier than the visit is what I mean.

Senator WONG: The media releases confirming the visit went out on 2 February from the Prime Minister and from the White House.

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator WONG: How long prior to that was the decision made that Mr Ciobo would be attending with the Prime Minister?

Ms Adamson : We can check the exact date for you. I think it was part of the longer term planning. I recall discussing it with him even in December. Given the business delegation, the senior level business people going, it was a natural thing for Mr Ciobo to accompany—

Senator WONG: Economic engagement is more than trade, though.

Ms Adamson : Of course. It is trade and investment, tourism, all of those things.

Senator WONG: Some of which are an important part of foreign policy. When was it decided that Ms Bishop wouldn't join the delegation?

Ms Adamson : I don't think it was envisaged at any point that Ms Bishop would. As you know, the foreign minister rarely, if ever, travels with the Prime Minister. They may briefly coincide at a meeting—East Asia Summit, APEC, after the foreign ministers' meeting—but in our system, the foreign minister does not as a matter of course, or even as a regular thing, or even rarely, accompany the Prime Minister.

Senator WONG: Hang on. Her counterpart was there.

Ms Adamson : Yes, but that's honestly of no consequence. Regularly—

Senator WONG: There is no consequence? Come on!

Ms Adamson : Absolutely.

Senator WONG: No consequence that the Secretary of State—

Ms Adamson : It's not. When a leader visits Australia the foreign minister joins the Prime Minister in meeting that leader. When our Prime Minister visits another country and meets another leader, whether their foreign minister is there or not is up to them. The foreign minister has very regular contact with Secretary Tillerson, on the phone, meeting regularly—

Senator Payne: Didn't they see each other in Kuwait the week before?

Ms Adamson : There was no reason for her to go for that because he was going to be there at a lunch. Absolutely none. You would know from previous governments that it's not something our system does.

Senator Payne: Of course you would expect the Secretary of State to be going with the President.

Senator WONG: I actually attended quite a number of leader-level meetings with Prime Minister Rudd when I was doing climate change.

Ms Adamson : When you were doing climate change, if there were climate change negotiations.

Senator WONG: Leader-level meetings. That's fine. People are getting very stressed about it. I'm going to move on.

CHAIR: Can I clarify what the Secretary said? You were saying that in the United States it's very common for the President and the Secretary of State, under their presidential system, to do these sorts of events together. But under our parliamentary system it's not usual for the Prime Minister and the foreign minister to go to the same events, which is why you have two and two meetings perhaps, and not with the Prime Minister?

Ms Adamson : It's partly that, but also the difference of being the home side, if you like. If a foreign leader is visiting Australia, as with the Australia ASEAN Special Summit, where the foreign minister can join the Prime Minister in meeting a foreign leader, naturally enough she will do that. It happens all the time in this building. But there is a big distinction between being the home side welcoming a guest—the foreign minister being there, including to offer advice to the Prime Minister on the conduct of the relationship, as the foreign minister normally knows other leaders as well—there's a big difference between that and travelling abroad. The Chinese do it all the time, of course. Wang Yi always goes with Xi Jinping. But we don't do it like that.

CHAIR: Thank you. I just wanted to clarify that point.

Senator WONG: Under this government the foreign minister and the Prime Minister don't do it like that. It is not the case to say Australian governments don't do it like that. When you worked for Stephen Smith it is the case that he attended with the Prime Minister. I attended a number of meetings with Prime Minister Rudd. We are just going to have to agree—

CHAIR: The Secretary never said it never happened. She was very clear—

Ms Adamson : I recall one instance in Indonesia for the swearing in of SBY.

Senator WONG: PNG visit; a number of visits including in relation to climate change; that first visit to China. I don't think you were with us then, I think you were in the High Commission.

Senator Payne: Certainly in my experience.

Senator WONG: Let's just move on. When I asked Senator Cormann about this in Prime Minister and Cabinet, he made the point that foreign minister Bishop had a number of prescheduled commitments in Europe, which she fulfilled with great distinction. I just want to ask—there was quite a lot of media from the foreign minister about her attendance at London Fashion Week and Buckingham Palace. When was that aspect of the visit scheduled?

Ms Adamson : The London aspect of the visit?

Senator WONG: The London Fashion Week aspect.

Ms Adamson : I will ask my colleague who looks after our relationship with Europe to come to the table. In fact fashion is public diplomacy.

CHAIR: Or is it trade as well?

Ms Adamson : It is all of those things, but we work on it and lead on it.

Senator WONG: Pictures tweeted from Buckingham Palace, engagement with the Duchess of Cambridge for the London Fashion Week—this one of the prescheduled important commitments that Senator Cormann was referring to?

Ms Adamson : The foreign minister of course travels very frequently. She had some travel scheduled for that week when the Prime Minister was in Washington. But even if she had not had travel scheduled, it is not the norm in our system, or even really within the department's contemplation, that she would go. She was doing other things.

Senator WONG: I've heard your view about that. I'm asking about the Buckingham Palace episode, meeting or social event—whatever one calls it when one meets royals—and the London Fashion Week. Was this one of the prescheduled commitments that Senator Cormann was referencing?

Ms Adamson : I don't know what Senator Cormann was referencing. I do know that the minister's program was set some way in advance. She is a very strong supporter of fashion. I've heard her speak about the event enthusiastically.

Senator WONG: When was the London Fashion Week aspect of the European program set?

Mr Byrne : From memory, the minister received an invitation to the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange in late 2017. It would have been November or possibly early December. I would have to check.

Senator Payne: As I understand it, wasn't it a program to highlight Commonwealth themes of trade, security prosperity and fairness? It's a partnership. It's a large event, as I understand it.

Senator WONG: So late 2017.

Mr Byrne : That's my recollection around that time.

Senator WONG: At this stage was the trip already confirmed?

Mr Byrne : I'm not sure about the broader arrangements of her trip to the UK, only that that one aspect of it.

Senator WONG: Can I just quickly move to the—

Senator Payne: Can I clarify—

Senator WONG: I've moved on. You're all very sensitive about this. I was about to do the Prime Minister's trip to Japan.

CHAIR: I have a couple of questions on this before you move on. This touches on the issue of fashion diplomacy. I understand it's worth about $20 billion or so in exports every year for our economy. Can you give us a bit of background on why DFAT engages in promoting our export of our fashion industry?

Senator WONG: Really? Do we need to do this again?

Mr Byrne : The estimate is that the Australian fashion industry adds about $12 billion a year to the Australian economy, of which about $5 billion is in exports right through the value chain. It employs about 220,000 Australians. From our perspective it's part of our promotion of the Australian creative industries within our public diplomacy program—so not just fashion, but also art, film and music, for example. It does two things in our view. It helps promote an image of Australia and perceptions of Australia as a creative, modern, sophisticated society. But clearly it also has some economic benefits as well.

CHAIR: In fact I seem to recall that there are well over 200,000 Australians employed in the fashion industry, and it's a booming area for future job prospects as well.

Mr Byrne : That's right. As I said, it's about 220,000 people right through the value chain, from production of high quality primary materials through to design and manufacturing. So, yes, it's a growth industry.

CHAIR: Would it be safe to say that successive governments have strongly supported our fashion industry and their export opportunities overseas?

Mr Byrne : Certainly it's an area that DFAT has been promoting for a number of years under various governments.

Senator KITCHING: I want to read the foreign minister's tweet. I'm happy to table this. 'Talking sustainable fashion with Duchess of Cambridge at #buckinghampalace' and then the emoji with the crown on top, #fashionexchange, 'bringing together designers and artisans from 53 #commonwealthnations #londonfashionweek.' What are the commercial outcomes of meeting the Duchess of Cambridge at Buckingham Palace?

Senator Payne: She was the host, so it's a little difficult to avoid, I would have thought. Australia's Woolmark company is a major sponsor of this event. We had an Australian designer, who was paired with an artisan from the Pacific, from the Solomon Islands, to actually create a gown which was included in that launch event at Buckingham Palace. The hosts at Buckingham Palace were the Duchess of Cambridge and the Countess of Wessex. The foreign minister was invited, along with other Commonwealth ministers. We're talking about a Commonwealth fashion exchange, which is part of the Commonwealth summit activities. It's a partnership between Eco-Age, Fashion 4 Development, the British Fashion Council, the Commonwealth Fashion Council, Google Arts & Culture. Its aim is to promote ethical, sustainable fashion and trade across the Commonwealth.

Senator KITCHING: I understand all that. But what is the commercial outcome? How much money—perhaps I can put this another way. We can obviously go back and look at this ourselves, but how many fashion events has the foreign minister attended compared with previous foreign ministers?

CHAIR: If we're going to look at the current foreign minister and her support for the Australian industry and the 220,000 people who are employed and the many more who could be employed, then I think we—

Senator WONG: I know you're very sensitive about this. I'm happy to move on. Can we talk about Japan now?

Senator Payne: Senator Kitching enjoys fashion week.

CHAIR: Senator Kitching asked the question, and I think we can help because her own colleague, Anne Aly, said that the industry is worth $32 billion to Australia. Do you want the call, Senator Wong?

Senator WONG: I'm just waiting for the government to finish defending Fashion Week. I'd like to get on to Japan.

Senator KITCHING: On notice, could you tell me: what is the commercial outcome of this event that is the subject of this tweet? Would you like me to give you the time and the date of the tweet? Would that be helpful?

Ms Adamson : We know what time.

Senator WONG: They came prepared.

Senator KITCHING: Yes. I can see that.

Senator Payne: We think the Commonwealth summit's important.

Senator WONG: There is an issue about relative importance, but let's not get into that. I appreciate that you guys think it is really important. I suppose we have different views about priorities. Can we move on?

CHAIR: I understand. I would just like to ask a final question, at least from my perspective. Senator Wong said this was an issue of priorities and competing priorities. I understood from what the secretary and the minister said that this was actually about jobs and about future growth both here and across the continent.

Senator WONG: Come on! Do you want to play that? How many times—

CHAIR: You might have different opinions, but was that what this mission was about? The foreign minister's trip was about jobs?

Senator WONG: Goodness! You've got to be kidding!

CHAIR: Senator Wong, you opened the door and walked straight through.

Senator WONG: The proposition from the chair is that, because we reckon that maybe going to Buckingham Palace to meet the Duchess is not as important as going to Washington to meet Secretary Tillerson, we're anti jobs. That's the proposition.

CHAIR: No.

Senator KITCHING: Can I clarify something?

CHAIR: I will just finish.

Senator KITCHING: Point of order, Chair. Can you clarify: by 'jobs' do you mean all jobs and not outworker jobs?

CHAIR: That's not a point of order. That is a debating point.

Senator WONG: As opposed to what you just said! Why don't we ask some of your colleagues what they reckon about it?

CHAIR: If you can allow the secretary to answer my question then we can see what the answer is.

Senator WONG: Eric is wearing a pink shirt. He's into fashion!

Senator Payne: He looks very smart!

CHAIR: Senators, I have asked the secretary a question. I would be grateful if she could be heard in silence.

Senator GALLACHER: I would just like to put on the public record we are exhausting the time that is allocated to this subject—

CHAIR: That is a commentary. Senator Gallacher, that is not a point of order.

Senator GALLACHER: It is really important to all those people sitting at the back of the room whether they come back on another day. All I'm trying to do is use the time we have left to conclude the brief.

CHAIR: Senator Gallacher, just because you might not like the answer that the secretary or the minister is providing doesn't make it any less valid question, particularly when you might not get the response that you expected.

Senator GALLACHER: The only recourse I have is to draft a letter asking for additional time. Would you like me to draft it now?

CHAIR: Senator, I will take that again as you making a veiled threat: if we keep answering questions you don't like, you will have a spillover day. That is absolutely your right. But I would now like to go back to the secretary and have her heard in silence.

Ms Adamson : Thank you very much, Senator, and I will be brief. I do think against the backdrop of this discussion it's important to point out that, during her visit to London, the foreign minister also attended a chamber of commerce breakfast. She held a working lunch with key foreign policy commentators. She delivered a foreign policy speech at King's College. She met the UK National Security Adviser. She met the House of Commons select committee chair on foreign affairs. She held a policy roundtable. She met with Boris Johnson, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, her UK counterpart, and the Secretary of State for International Development. She had met and held a significant bilateral meeting in previous days with Secretary Tillerson. They had dealt with the range of issues between—

CHAIR: The foreign minister had just met—

Ms Adamson : Exactly.

Senator Payne: In Kuwait on the 14th.

Ms Adamson : Yes. I thought it was important to make those—

Senator Payne: It was a point I made some time ago.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for that clarification. Senator Wong or Senator Kitching?

Senator WONG: Have we finished defending fashion? Can I move on to Japan?

CHAIR: I have given you the call.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I will try and truncate this. Can you confirm the date of the Prime Minister's trip on 18 January. Are you able to table or provide on notice an itinerary and details of meetings?

Mr Fletcher : Yes, it was on 18 January. I can tell you what the main features of the program were.

Senator WONG: Sure. That would be great.

Mr Fletcher : There was a formal bilateral summit meeting, a banquet dinner, a meeting of the National Security Council, which the Prime Minister attended, a visit to a self-defense forces training area, a smaller bilateral meeting and a private exchange with the Prime Minister before departure.

Senator WONG: What was the first bilateral meeting?

Mr Fletcher : A formal bilateral summit.

Senator WONG: Are you able to tell me who was in the formal bilateral summit and then the small bilateral?

Mr Fletcher : I will take that on notice.

Senator WONG: What about the small bilateral?

Mr Fletcher : I don't have any details on who attended.

Senator WONG: That's fine. I think this was confirmed at PM&C, but at the Washington lunch with the President and Secretary Tillerson a DFAT representative was in attendance?

Ms Adamson : Our head of mission was there.

Senator WONG: Can you tell me who else was there from DFAT?

Ms Adamson : I can't tell you off the top of my head.

Senator WONG: Mr McKinnon said he thought it was—I can't remember the name.

Ms Adamson : Can I check and get back to you?

Senator WONG: Yes, of course, take that on notice. You will take on notice those three. Was it just the one day?

Mr Fletcher : Yes.

Senator WONG: Were you in attendance?

Mr Fletcher : No.

Senator WONG: Was it just the head of mission—the ambassador?

Mr Fletcher : The ambassador and his senior staff would have been there.

Senator WONG: Senior staff from the post?

Mr Fletcher : From the post, yes. No-one from DFAT Canberra attended during the visit.

Senator WONG: Would it be a more reasonable assessment to say that the discussions were dominated by regional security and economic matters?

Mr Fletcher : Yes. Business, regional security, innovation, technology—

Ms Adamson : And Bushmasters.

Mr Fletcher : hydrogen energy—that sort of thing.

Senator WONG: Any particular outcomes perhaps on notice you could provide?.

Mr Fletcher : On notice, yes, certainly.

Senator WONG: That would be useful. Are there any further discussions at leader level anticipated in the near future?

Mr Fletcher : Quite possibly there will be a phone call or two. I mean, they do talk to each throughout the year.

Senator WONG: Just to confirm—and I'm not sure I actually asked Mr Green this when I asked some brief questions about the quadrilateral—that dialogue is intended to continue at senior officials level for the foreseeable future?

Ms Adamson : That's correct. It is within contemplation that it could progress. The last time that Gary Quinlan attended in his role as deputy secretary.

Senator WONG: Can I flick over to the climate change, please?

Ms Adamson : Certainly.

Senator WONG: I don't know if this goes to Mr Sloper. My first question is in relation to the current tenders for the Australia Pacific Climate Change Action Program Support Unit.

Mr Sloper : Senator, you had a question about the—

Senator WONG: Are you currently seeking tenders for the Australia Pacific Climate Change Action Program Support Unit?

Mr Sloper : I can't confirm exactly when it went out but we are in the process of going to tender soon if we haven't already. I assume by the question that it must be advertised now.

Senator WONG: I understand the design document states—sorry, what's the acronym that you want me to use?

Mr Sloper : You can say it fully or it's APCCAP. It clearly doesn't roll off the tongue.

Senator WONG: No, not really! The design document associated with this program states:

It is the first part of a ten year vision for a coordinated Australian response to climate change action and disaster resilience in the Pacific.

What is that 10-year vision? Where is that outlined?

Mr Sloper : The 10-year vision is us to maintain that program for that period but it reflects the commitment on a number of occasions, firstly by the Prime Minister for a four-year commitment two years ago to lift our investment in the Pacific to $300 million. The 10 year refers to our ambition for this program to continue for that period. That's not unusual. We will often go out with a program that might be funded for the first three or four years and, subject to it being a successful program, we would then roll it forward.

Senator WONG: We're tendering for a unit which is supposed to deliver the first part of the 10-year vision. I want to know whether there is somewhere where this 10-year vision is articulated.

Mr Sloper : We haven't articulated a specific vision for the full 10 years beyond what is in the tender documentation. What we're trying to do with this is integrate more fully climate change action within our broader development program, as well as having specific climate change programs.

Senator WONG: Which I support very much, but I just would have thought it would be helpful to understand what we're seeking to achieve.

Mr Sloper : Would it be useful for me to describe our current activity and how this might complement it?

Senator WONG: I actually want to know: are you working on what you might describe as a climate change strategy? Do we have one?

Mr Sloper : Specifically within the Pacific?

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Sloper : We've been funding a whole range of activities for a long time within the Pacific, but, if you want them to badge them in three broad areas, I'd describe them as research, resilience and response. Research is our support for climate change science within the region. That can range from tidal gauge support to collecting information through the bureaus of meteorology and science support—

Senator WONG: You're giving me a program description, and that's fine, but I actually want to know if there's a climate change strategy document anywhere. Is there somewhere where DFAT or the government has said, 'This is our climate change strategy for the Pacific,' which sits above a whole range of programs in relation to, as you said, adaptation, resilience et cetera which delivers that strategy? Do we have a strategy?

Mr Sloper : I don't think there's one encapsulating document, but we want to ensure the region can meet its commitments to Paris, as do we, and we want to ensure that, wherever possible, climate change actions are instilled in their own programming. We're responding to national priorities identified by our partner governments in the region.

Senator WONG: I'm not talking so much about mitigation. In part, I was talking about mitigation, but I was actually interested in your earlier comments which went to ensuring that climate resilience is a part of our development strategy. I'm wondering if this is articulated anywhere.

Mr Suckling : It's articulated in different documents in different places in DFAT. For example, there is the overarching Australian development policy in Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability, and there's different guidance and priorities established through different forums within DFAT. From our perspective, we're aware there isn't an overarching climate change strategy for the department. It's something we're working on now. Traditionally, what has happened, as Daniel was saying, is that different regions have taken the lead on climate change development aid for their regions. What we're having a look at now is bringing all of that under some strategy. That's work in progress at the moment.

Senator WONG: When did that work commence?

Mr Suckling : Last year.

Senator WONG: Was that at the minister's request? Was it departmental-led or was it requested by the minister or was it some other option?

Mr Suckling : The minister, as you probably know, is very focused on climate issues in the development aid program. She's interested in innovative policy and strategy on climate. It is something she's been interested in. We put up a suggestion, in connection with some other work we were doing, that we develop a strategy around climate, and she strongly agreed that we do.

Senator WONG: About when?

Mr Suckling : Mid last year, from memory.

Senator WONG: Perhaps, on notice, you can indicate when. Who's leading that? Is it you, Mr Suckling, or is there some other area?

Mr Suckling : We're doing the overarching strategy, but it will have to be done in close consultation with a range of divisions and others who have day-to-day working involvement in development aid programs in different regions.

Senator WONG: What's been done since the minister agreed to that recommendation?

Mr Suckling : We've been looking at a couple of things. One is the concept of integrating climate finance more strongly through the aid program because climate impacts magnify development challenges pretty much across the spectrum. While we've been doing that for a long time, over a decade, from our perspective we thought—possibly even two years ago—that we should start doing this sort of work in a more systematic way. As at about two years ago, we started work on different approaches as to how you might better integrate climate finance into development aid and what sort of guidance you'd provide for practitioners, for people who are developing programs, implementing them and evaluating them. That work has been going on for a while. On top of that, we've been looking at issues related to dedicated climate finance where the majority of the finance is for, for example, a renewable energy project, which is 100 per cent, under Rio markers, climate finance as opposed to possibly an element of climate finance. If you climate-proof a road, the whole cost of the road is not counted as climate finance—

Senator WONG: This is ongoing work that's been around for some time?

Mr Suckling : Yes.

Senator WONG: It's probably a good thing that Senator Abetz was out of the room for some of this discussion, but, anyway, I'll leave to that to one side! You've got the minister ticking off a recommendation to develop a climate change strategy—correct?

Mr Suckling : Yes.

Senator WONG: By when? Is there an end point? Have you set out a work program? Are there consultations? Are you at a go-slow point? I just want to understand the progress of it.

Mr Suckling : We're hoping to get something out this year, but it will depend on consultations and the degree of issues that may arise through those processes of consultation, and the design of different elements of the strategy, which have to go through governance processes within the DFAT aid governance architecture. We're hoping to get something out this year, both on integration and dedicated climate finance, under the umbrella of the climate change strategy.

Mr Sloper : Could I add that this isn't new, of course; it builds on existing programs. I won't go into the detail unless you're interested, but it is building on and complementing the integration in our current aid program. I only make that point because in the Pacific there's a continuing program of work which is taking advice from Mr Suckling's team but is actually integrating work now and building on the themes I mentioned.

Senator WONG: At the time the recommendation was put to the minister, was there any government decision as to time frame for the delivery of the strategy, and has it been changed since that original decision?

Mr Suckling : The time frame was some time this year and there's been no change to that time frame.

Senator WONG: Have you consulted as yet with any external organisations in relation to this strategy?

Mr Suckling : There have been some discussions with some stakeholders but we're yet to do formal consultations. We're going through internal governance processes before going out to external consultation.

Senator WONG: What does that mean?

Mr Suckling : We're scoping out what should be in the strategy and getting a sense from all the different experts around DFAT as to whether they agree with that outline. Then we'll use that as the basis to go to consultations to have broader discussions.

Senator WONG: Is there anything to show yet on the strategy?

Mr Suckling : There's been a lot of work, as Daniel said, building on aid integration. There has been a lot of work done over the last couple of years on better integrating climate finance into the aid program. There has been work done on some dedicated climate finance options and there has been work done on what the whole strategy would look like and encompass. So, yes, there has been quite a bit of work done.

Senator WONG: Later this year?

Mr Suckling : Yes.

Senator WONG: Can I quickly turn to DFAT's organisational structure, in particular the capacity on international development. Ms Adamson, in your remarks earlier today you talked about the establishment of an aid governance board, which I think I've read somewhere else.

Ms Adamson : That's a relatively new body. We overhauled the previous committees and established an aid governance board, which reports to the senior executive.

Senator WONG: What led to the decision to create the board?

Ms Adamson : Towards the end of 2016 I wanted, as a new secretary, to systematically work through our aid programming and all related aspects of it, so I instituted what we called an aid programming health check. A lot of that work was led by Mr Gilling. We had some assistance from outside as well. That reaffirmed a lot of very positive things but it also made some suggestions for ways in which we could improve. One thing that we looked at very closely was governance arrangements within the department, including when it came to all the various ways in which we delivered aid. Mr Gilling, having been so intimately involved in it, can talk to you about that.

CHAIR: Before he does, I understand you have another matter for clarification, so we could do that either now or after these matters.

Ms Adamson : Thank you, Chair. Senator Kitching asked me some questions earlier, which I took on notice, in relation to a Mr Panton. You asked about passports, and I can confirm that Mr Panton has never been issued with a diplomatic or official passport. I can also confirm that Mr Panton has not received what I think you termed 'personal support'.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you.

Ms Adamson : I took those on notice; they are now my formal answers.

Senator KITCHING: What about facilitation assistance—the transiting?

Ms Adamson : The answer I have relates to personal support. If Mr Panton is with the foreign minister, I would expect him to be facilitated through an airport as she is facilitated. But, if there is anything to add to that, I will come back to you.

Senator KITCHING: What about transport and security? I'm happy for those to be taken on notice.

Ms Adamson : Security is provided to the foreign minister in her role as foreign minister. By definition, that's not provided to any other person accompanying her. That would be the norm. In relation to transport—

Senator WONG: Clearly, that's a given. I think the question—

Ms Adamson : Well, that was the question, Senator.

Senator WONG: No, no. If he's not with her—

CHAIR: Senator Wong, the secretary is answering a follow-up question from Senator Kitching. I think, if further clarification is required, perhaps Senator Kitching might like to ask for that.

Senator WONG: Sure. I just wanted to shortcut things, Chair.

Senator KITCHING: I'm asking about transport and security if Mr Panton is not with the foreign minister.

Ms Adamson : I can answer confidently about security, because security is only provided to the foreign minister. But let me confirm in relation to your specific question, and I'll come back to you as soon as I can.

Senator KITCHING: And facilitation through an airport is what you're talking about. Is that right?

Ms Adamson : Yes, but, if I could just add on the transport and security, I'm happy for those to be taken on notice.

Senator Payne: My understanding is there is none provided. He does not have separate programs. It is not arranged in that way. If there is anything to add to that, we will come back to you on notice.

Senator KITCHING: Going back to London, could I just ask—I'm happy for you to take this on notice—if the foreign minister received any gifts while she was in London.

CHAIR: I think, Senator Kitching, you're now taking advantage of the secretary's speedy response—

Senator KITCHING: That's what I wanted to do!

CHAIR: and taking it out to other issues. Senator Wong had the call.

Senator KITCHING: I'm just asking for it on notice.

Senator WONG: I don't think she's asking for it today.

Senator KITCHING: I'm not asking for anything else.

Senator WONG: On the health check—remind me; is it Mr Gilling?

Ms Adamson : Mr Gilling was the one who was involved in the review, and Mr Exell can assist.

Senator WONG: Okay. Thank you. Is there any documentation associated with the outcome of the health check that you'd be able to provide?

Ms Adamson : We can provide you with information now, if you like, about the key elements. As I said, it was very—

Senator WONG: I like reading, believe it or not, and we also have an hour and a quarter left, and I'm very conscious that colleagues have a number of questions. I'm actually quite happy to get something on notice.

Ms Adamson : We can do that.

Senator WONG: You obviously got a report. You may—I'm not conceding this, but you may not want to put all of it in, but I'd be interested in that.

Ms Adamson : I'm sure we can give you the main points on notice, Senator, yes.

Senator WONG: Thank you. Where does the governance board sit in this org chart?

Ms Adamson : That is an organisational chart, a functional organisational chart. We have a number of other bodies—our Audit and Risk Committee, for example. We have a people committee. We have a whole range of committees—possibly too many, even—which meet and report to the departmental executive, which is our overarching governance body. That meets virtually weekly.

Mr Exell : The aid governance board is chaired by the position I am currently in—the deputy secretary. The head of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation chairs that committee. It is made up of members drawn from across the department.

Ms Adamson : But it doesn't appear on this org chart.

Senator WONG: I simply would say this to you—and these are matters, obviously, for the secretary: I think there is a difference between a people's committee, or whatever the phrase was that you used, and a board which establishes a governance mechanism. There is a functional responsibility that the governance board has. So, to me, it's somewhat—

Ms Adamson : As our Audit and Risk Committee does, there are a range of others that enable us to meet our accountability requirements to you. It's drawn from people here, and we also actually have on the aid governance board an independent member—

Senator WONG: Only one?

Ms Adamson : One.

Senator WONG: Who's that?

Ms Adamson : It's Lynelle Briggs. I've also just appointed the first independent chair of the DFAT audit committee, Brendan Sargeant.

Senator WONG: Can you give me the current make-up of the board, then?

Ms Adamson : The board and the committee?

Senator WONG: The governance board.

Ms Adamson : Yes, certainly.

Senator WONG: To what extent is international development a focus of your diplomatic academy?

Ms Adamson : It's one of the nine faculties in our diplomatic academy and a natural focus given the importance of development work in the department.

Senator WONG: All of which are compulsory or not?

Ms Adamson : It depends on what you're doing. There are some courses that are compulsory and there are others which are voluntary, but broadly we have a significant focus on all aspects of training.

Mr Exell : The courses have foundational elements that we encourage all staff to actually do. Then we move up the path of specialisation, whether it's sector knowledge, whether it's a—

Senator WONG: Could you, on notice, perhaps give me some information about courses and the structure of the—

Ms Adamson : Sure.

Senator WONG: Mr McDonald has become the High Commissioner to New Zealand. Mr Exell, you're acting.

Mr Exell : Yes.

Senator WONG: A lot of people seem to like him.

Ms Adamson : I beg your pardon?

Senator WONG: A lot of people like him; a lot of stakeholders like him.

Ms Adamson : We've advertised, Senator, if you want to give a reference to anyone applying. I'm sure you're welcome to do that.

Senator WONG: No, I'm just saying that a lot of stakeholders say nice things about him! That sounded like I was backing you in for a position! I'm not engaging her. That's not my job! I was thinking out loud. Also, he was at a speech I gave where I quoted somebody and the DFAT people in the room looked upset, but I said it was someone else's quote—I'll stop.

CHAIR: I think you're blushing, Senator Wong!

Senator WONG: I realise how stupid that all sounded! But, anyway, I just want to know the time frame around the deputy secretary for this division.

Ms Adamson : This is a group, of course, rather than a division—

Senator WONG: What's the difference, again?

Ms Adamson : The group brings—

Senator WONG: You do it the other way, don't you? A division is smaller?

Ms Adamson : Yes. Previously, we had deputy secretaries simply superintending divisions with no natural coherence necessarily against their functions. I've created groups with these names.

Senator WONG: I just want to know: what's the time frame?

Ms Adamson : When?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Ms Adamson : We've advertised. I think I've got a copy of the advertisement here. Applications close shortly. I will chair a selection panel. Applications close on 13 March. I would be looking to make an appointment as soon as possible. It's an important position.

Senator WONG: Yes. Mr Exell, are you still the Ambassador for Regional Health Security?

Mr Exell : I do still carry that role.

Senator WONG: Is that intended to be a part-time role?

Mr Exell : No, but I'm doing my best to manage both those responsibilities.

Ms Adamson : I've asked Mr Exell to act in this position for the moment. I think it's important that there be an acting deputy secretary when there is a vacancy.

Mr Exell : The Centre for Health Security has been up and running, with a strong complement of staff, since early January. They're certainly cracking on with the work under the Health Security Initiative of the government.

Senator WONG: You may or may not read any of my speeches, Secretary, but I will reflect to you that, in terms of some of the consultation in the lead-up to a couple of speeches—and stakeholders may have varying degrees of accuracy in terms of their assessment—there was some concern, if I put it that way, in the sector about the extent of capability within the department at leadership level on issues of international development. You may respond if you want. I'm not putting that to you as an assertion. I'm observing that this is what others say. I assume that you do regard that capability as an important part of DFAT's functions.

Ms Adamson : I absolutely do. In fact, I mentioned it in my opening statement this morning. I also mentioned that I intend for us to have a focus on that this year. I'm very mindful that I came to the position as a secretary with a strong foreign affairs background and without a strong development background. My colleagues have been good enough—in my early months, anyway—to give me weekly sessions on all of this. I make a point when I'm travelling to visit our aid projects and talk to colleagues with aid expertise, but I've relied heavily on a significant number of very capable colleagues with deep aid expertise.

I've been very keen to send a signal throughout the department that we value aid expertise. It was a specific focus of a speech I made launching our workforce strategy. It's a specific focus of the Diplomatic Academy's work as well. I read widely and I read many speeches—any speeches that are given in the area that you're discussing-so I take the point, and I am very mindful of it. There may be some work that we need to do to address it, but we are always interested in having discussions with the sector—we do that very regularly—and ensuring that we have the capacity that we need in years to come. That means growing it too, including from entry level.

Senator WONG: You've actually picked up an issue which I hadn't necessarily intended to address, but I think, given you have, it's useful. Which is: there's the capability point, but there's also the extent to which that capability is perceived in the department as being valued and important, and part of career progression. I'm glad you identify it, because there are quite a substantial range of views about whether in fact that is the case. Would you agree with that?

Ms Adamson : I would agree that there are a range of views outside the department. I think, inside the department, I've made clear from day one that, as secretary, I value this capability. I've made previous small statements on it in estimates. I fully recognise that it's one thing for me to say it—

Senator WONG: Correct.

Ms Adamson : It's another thing for staff—internally and the sector externally—to be confident that we are doing what we say. I will just simply have to continue to prove it. But I am devoting priority to it—

Senator WONG: It's both explicit and implicit.

Ms Adamson : Of course, absolutely.

Senator WONG: Thank you very much.

Senator SINGH: I want to raise some serious human rights concerns regarding citizens in China. You're probably aware there are hundreds, in fact, of Tibetans as well as lawyers and other citizens, currently detained by the Chinese government in connection with their work, exercising and promoting human rights and freedoms, fundamental freedoms, and there are also some who have simply disappeared. I'm interested to know what the Australian government is doing to raise these human rights concerns with China.

Mr Fletcher : Human rights in China is one issue that we're concerned about in our relationship with China and something we take up with the Chinese authorities on a regular basis. So, for instance, last year, there were, I think, three public statements by the government and about 20 private representations either in Australia or China about particular cases and in relation to particular developments and the more general situation.

Senator SINGH: That was in the last—

Mr Fletcher : That was the year 2017, and we will, I imagine, continue those representations, those discussions, this year.

Senator SINGH: Obviously, we haven't had the human rights dialogue now for, I think, nearly four years—

Mr Fletcher : That's correct.

Senator SINGH: between Australia and China. What reasons, if any, has China given to Australia for walking away from that dialogue?

Mr Fletcher : We have attempted to arrange the dialogue at various times in the last several years, and the usual problem has been scheduling from the Chinese side.

Senator SINGH: So you're saying, regardless of that dialogue not having been held for the last number of years—

Mr Fletcher : Four years; it's nearly four years.

Senator SINGH: there have been a number of other mechanisms.

Mr Fletcher : Yes. When we have the dialogue on a regular, annual basis, we also discuss human rights in other settings with China. We like to have a dedicated dialogue, in addition to intermittent set-piece discussions. But, at the moment, without the dialogue happening, we're still proceeding with those other discussions.

Senator SINGH: I'm also aware that the US embassy in Beijing has worked at highlighting and advancing some of these human rights issues of people in Xinjiang province and Tibet by issuing statements, usually around International Human Rights Day but also at other bilateral dialogues. Particularly, they have referenced—among other human rights defenders, lawyers, citizens and the like—the rights of Tibetans to be able to practise their own language. As it is written in the Chinese constitution, which I think I've got here somewhere:

… all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages …

There is one particular quite high-profile case of a Tibetan who has now been in prison for the last two years through his advocacy of trying to practise the Tibetan language. In January this year the US embassy in Beijing took with it a group of diplomats from Germany, the UK and the EU to be able to attend this particular Tibetan man's trial. However, their attempt obviously didn't go through. I just was wondering whether Australia was aware of that particular case and whether or not they participated as part of this diplomatic delegation, or at least were aware of it?

Mr Fletcher : Yes, we're certainly aware of the case. We raised it on two occasions last year, once in February and once in October. In February it was in Beijing with the foreign ministry, and in October it was in Canberra when a Tibetan delegation was visiting. We did not send anyone to Qinghai, which is where the trial was taking place. We make our own decisions about how we raise human rights cases and which particular avenues we wish to pursue from time to time. I'm afraid I don't actually know, but do you know, whether the diplomats who did seek to attend the trial were able to get into the trial?

Senator SINGH: They weren't able; that is my understanding.

Mr Fletcher : That has been the practice elsewhere. We have sent diplomats in the past from Beijing to other locations to seek to attend a trial, and they have not been able to do so. I wasn't aware of that trial ahead of it taking place; I'm sure the embassy was. If we'd been asked for our opinion, we probably would have said, 'It's a long way to go, and you probably won't get in, so it's your call.' My guess is the embassy decided it was not, in the circumstances, the best use of their time.

Senator SINGH: Regardless of the outcome of that lack of access to this particular person's trial, can I ask that Australia continue to raise these human rights concerns with China, particularly about this individual, but also about the other hundreds of Tibetans and other citizens that are being detained for what I think is often termed 'inciting separatism' or something, but who are really exercising and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Mr Fletcher : Yes. Certainly, that is something we intend to continue to do.

Senator SINGH: Finally, what efforts are you aware of that China has made to protect and strengthen personal freedoms of its citizens, if any?

Mr Fletcher : Well, that's a good question. When you're talking about political freedoms and the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, frankly, there is not progress in the main in China; in fact, there seems to be a tightening, restricting those freedoms more than they had been restricted in the past. That is a trend we've seen over the last few years, and it's applied to freedom of association, lawyers, activists on behalf of minority groups and a number of other cases.

Senator SINGH: Thank you, Chair.

Senator GALLACHER: Can I just clear up—it really is very quick—

CHAIR: That's fine. Then I'll go to Senator Abetz, and we'll come back to Labor.

Senator GALLACHER: In relation to the Modern Slavery Act, I've got four specific questions about legislation. Is legislation for the Modern Slavery Act in Australia currently being drafted—hopefully, that's a yes?

Senator Payne: I've got a colleague who, I hope, will be able to answer these questions very quickly. He's nodding, so I'm—

Senator MOORE: We're seeking indulgence, Chair, there are four questions—

CHAIR: That's fine.

Senator GALLACHER: The chair is fully supportive of this. The first question is: is legislation for the Modern Slavery Act in Australia currently being drafted?

Mr Shaw : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: At what stage is the drafting of the legislation?

Mr Shaw : The legislation is being looked after by the Department of Home Affairs. I understand that they're looking at tabling this legislation by midyear.

Senator GALLACHER: There's no deadline, but you're hopeful the middle of the year?

Mr Shaw : That's my understanding.

Senator GALLACHER: It's your understanding that the drafting process is currently on course to meet that deadline?

Mr Shaw : Yes.

Senator GALLACHER: Are organisations and government departments being consulted about the drafting process? Is that concurrent?

Mr Shaw : Yes, that's right.

Senator GALLACHER: Excellent; that sounds very good.

CHAIR: Thank you; great news. Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you. Can I briefly return to the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper. Can you confirm that our key area of strategic interest is the Indo-Pacific?

Ms Adamson : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: I was wondering if you could assist. On page 1, I'm kindly provided, as is everybody else, a footnote which tells us how we define Indo-Pacific. Does the Indo-Pacific include the western parts of South Asia?

Ms Adamson : Not for the purpose of this document, Senator; it does for the purpose of our aid program. It stretches beyond, through to the east coast of Africa. For the purpose of this, we have defined it as it's defined in that footnote.

Senator ABETZ: And does that include the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Ms Adamson : No, it doesn't for the purpose of this as we define it. We stop at India.

Senator ABETZ: Can you, potentially on notice, provide an explanation for that. I would have thought, as a nation—that's how I would've read the document as well—we have expended a fair degree of effort, and indeed human lives, in Afghanistan and the area of Pakistan and the problems there. I would've thought that area may, with respect, also be worthy of being included in our key area of strategic interest.

Ms Adamson : We do of course have global interests, including in the Middle East.

Senator ABETZ: That is understood, but when it comes to—

Ms Adamson : We thought very carefully about this, but then you'd say: 'Well, why don’t we go further west and include the Middle East?' For the purposes of this central priority for the white paper, government has decided to make the western arc, if you like, India; however, the point you make about Pakistan and Afghanistan, of course, is absolutely right. That goes to our global interest but, in terms of our economic and strategic weight over the next ten years, it really is in the area that we've defined here.

Senator ABETZ: I will take you to page 88 of the white paper and figure 6.2 which highlights extreme poverty in the Indo-Pacific. We are given four categories, and I'm just wondering how that links up with the footnote on page 1. We're told about the Pacific, South Asia, East Asia and South-East Asia.

Ms Adamson : Yes, we are. This table here, figure 6.2, is the Asian Development Bank.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but we have given it the heading 'Extreme poverty in the Indo-Pacific'.

Ms Adamson : Yes, and our own Indo-Pacific aid program, our target of 90 per cent of aid in that area, goes on a broader remit.

Senator ABETZ: Yes. All I'm asking is: is the definition of 'Indo-Pacific' that is used in the heading of figure 6.2 the same as the definition in the footnote on page 1? These things are important—to have a clarity of definition as to what we mean by 'Indo-Pacific'.

Ms Adamson : They certainly are. We gave very careful thought to this as we were drafting the white paper. I had a number of discussions with the white paper team about the way in which we would do that. If I can just check with them on the definition used in figure 6.2 as an ADB source, I'll come back to you on that.

Senator ABETZ: All right. Take that on notice, because time, sadly, is of the essence.

Ms Adamson : I can do that.

Senator ABETZ: I understand that some time ago a suggestion was made, to save a few shekels, that we extend postings for a year, to four years.

Ms Adamson : That suggestion was made as a result of the functional and efficiency review.

Senator ABETZ: And why was that rejected?

Ms Adamson : Staff were not at all keen on it.

Senator ABETZ: How much would it have saved the long-suffering Australian taxpayer?

Ms Adamson : I need to be able to staff our overseas posts. They come in a wide variety of places, obviously. A number of them are in very difficult conditions, so in some cases, actually, we have staff potentially on two-year postings. This was all decided before I became secretary, but on my inquiring when I became secretary, given the importance of the functional and efficiency review, I was advised that consultations with staff showed that there was opposition to that. We cannot enforce a length of posting. We do offer, in some cases extensions. We're mindful of the costs. There are a range of factors in there.

Senator ABETZ: Of course you can't enforce. People are entitled to resign, but I would have thought the culture could change if it were made known that the postings would be for a period of four years and, if people want to resign, so be it. I can understand that there may be certain posts that are less attractive than others, but I would have thought there would be a plethora of posts in the Americas or in Europe that would not necessarily be considered as hardship posts, where we could have saved money. Could you please take on notice what savings might have been achieved had we adopted that policy.

Ms Adamson : We