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Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee
04/06/2014
Estimates
FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO

FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND TRADE PORTFOLIO

In Attendance

Senator Brandis, Attorney-General

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Portfolio and Budget Overview

Mr Peter Varghese, Secretary

Ms Jan Adams, Deputy Secretary

Mr Ewen McDonald, Deputy Secretary

Mr John Fisher, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Management Division

Mr Paul Wood, Chief Finance Officer

Mr Jeff Roach, Assistant Secretary, Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch

Dr Angela Macdonald, Assistant Secretary, Parliamentary and Media Branch

Ms Jennifer Rawson, First Assistant Secretary, Integration Taskforce

Outcome and Program Structure

Outcome 1—The advancement of Australia's international strategic, security and economic interests including through bilateral, regional and multilateral engagement on Australian Government foreign, trade and international development policy priorities

Program 1.1—Foreign Affairs and Trade Operations

North Asia

Mr Peter Rowe, First Assistant Secretary, North Asia Division

South-East Asia

Mr Allaster Cox, First Assistant Secretary, South-East Asia Maritime Division

Americas and Africa

Dr Brendon Hammer, First Assistant Secretary, Americas Division

Africa

Mr Marc Innes-Brown, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division

Mr Adam McCarthy, Assistant Secretary, Africa Branch

Europe

Mr Jeremy Newman, First Assistant Secretary, Europe Division

South and West Asia

Mr Paul Robilliard, First Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia Division

Central Asia

Mr Paul Robilliard, First Assistant Secretary, South and West Asia Division

Middle East and North Africa

Mr Marc Innes-Brown, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division

Mr Adam McCarthy, Assistant Secretary, Africa Branch

Pacific

Ms Kathy Klugman, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific Division

International organisations, legal and environment

Ms Harinder Sidhu, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division

Ms Katrina Cooper, First Assistant Secretary, Legal Division

Mr Craig Chittick, Ambassador for People Smuggling, Multilateral Policy Division

Mr Jon Merrill, Head, UN Security Council Taskforce

Security, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation

Dr Robert Floyd, Director General, Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

Mr Peter Tesch, First Assistant Secretary, International Security Division

Mr Miles Armitage, Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism, Assistant Secretary, Counter-Terrorism Branch

Services to other agencies

Mr Rob Tranter, First Assistant Secretary, Public Diplomacy and Communications Division

Mr John Fisher, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Management Division

Mr Tuan Dao, Chief Information Officer, Information Management and Technology Division

Mr Scott Dawson, First Assistant Secretary, Contracting and Aid Management Division

Mr Jeff Roach, Assistant Secretary, Executive Branch

Services to diplomatic/consular representatives

Ms Sally Mansfield, Assistant Secretary, Protocol Branch

Public information services and public diplomacy

Mr Rob Tranter, First Assistant Secretary, Public Diplomacy and Communications Division

Program 1.2—Payments to International Organisations (Administered

Ms Harinder Sidhu, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division

Ms Clare Walsh, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Development Partnerships Division

Program 1.3—Public Information Services and Public Diplomacy (Administered )

Mr Rob Tranter, First Assistant Secretary, Public Diplomacy and Communications Division

Program 1.4—International Climate Change Engagement (Administered)

Ms Harinder Sidhu, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division

Mr Justin Lee, Ambassador for Climate Change, Multilateral Policy Division

Program 1.5—New Colombo Plan Transforming Regional Relationships

Ms Kate Duff, Assistant Secretary, New Colombo Plan Secretariat Branch

Aid Overview/Budget

Mr Ewen McDonald, Deputy Secretary

Mr Paul Wood, Chief Finance Officer

Program 1.6—Official Development Assistance PNG and Pacific

Ms Kathy Klugman, First Assistant Secretary, Pacific Division

Mr Mat Kimberley, Assistant Secretary PNG Development and Solomon Islands Branch

Program 1.7—Official Development Assistance East Asia

Mr Allaster Cox, First Assistant Secretary, South-East Asia Maritime Division

Ms Angela Corcoran, Assistant Secretary, Indonesia Program Delivery and Timor-Leste Branch

Program 1.8—Official Development Assistance East Asia AIPRD (Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development)

Mr Allaster Cox, First Assistant Secretary, South-East Asia Maritime Division

Ms Angela Corcoran, Assistant Secretary, Indonesia Program Delivery and Timor-Leste Branch

Program 1.9—Official Development Assistance Africa, South and Central Asia, Middle East and Other

Mr Marc Innes-Brown, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division

Mr Adam McCarthy, Assistant Secretary, Africa Branch

Program 1.10—Official Development Assistance Emergency, Humanitarian and Refugee Program

Mr Laurie Dunn, First Assistant Secretary, Humanitarian Division

Mr Blair Exell, First Assistant Secretary, Development Policy Division

Program 1.11—Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishments

Ms Clare Walsh, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Development Partnerships Division

Program 1.12—Official Development Assistance UN, Commonwealth and Other International Organisations

Ms Clare Walsh, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Development Partnerships Division

Program 1.13—Official Development Assistance NGO, Volunteer and Community Programs

Ms Clare Walsh, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Development Partnerships Division

Departmental Program Support Outcome 1

Outcome 2—The protection and welfare of Australian abroad and access to secure international travel documentation through timely and responsive travel advice and consular and passport services in Australia and overseas

Program 2.1—Consular Services: This includes assisting Australians overseas, Travellers emergency loans, Consular emergency services keeping Australians informed

Mr Justin Brown, First Assistant Secretary, Consular and Crisis Management Division

Program 2.2—Passport Services: This includes passport security, development of P-series passport

Mr Bob Nash, Executive Director, Australian Passport Office

Mr Tuan Dao, Chief Information Officer, Information Management and Technology Division

Outcome 3—A secure Australian Government presence overseas through the provision of security services and information and communications technology infrastructure, and the management of the Commonwealth's overseas owned estate

Program 3.1—Foreign Affairs and Trade Operations

Mr John Fisher, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Management Division

Mr Tuan Dao, Chief Information Officer, Information Management and Technology Division

Program 3.2—Overseas Property

Mr Kevin Nixon, Executive Director, Overseas Property Office and Services

Committee met at 09:03

CHAIR ( Senator Eggleston ): I declare open this meeting of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee. I welcome here today the minister, George Brandis. I welcome Mr Peter Varghese, the head of the department of foreign affairs, and his various officers at the table and also in the audience.

The Senate has referred to the committee the particulars of proposed expenditure for the 2014-15 budget and certain other documents for the portfolio of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The committee may also examine the annual reports of the departments and agencies appearing before it. The committee is due to report to the Senate on 24 June and has fixed Friday, 25 July as the date for the return of answers to questions taken on notice. Senators should provide their written questions on notice to the secretariat by Thursday, 12 June.

The committee's proceedings today will begin with the examination of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade until 11 tonight and will continue tomorrow. Under standing order 26, the committee must take all evidence in public session. This includes answers to questions on notice.

I remind all witness that, in giving evidence to the committee, they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The Senate, by resolution in 1999, endorsed the following test of relevance of questions at estimates hearings: any questions going to the operations or financial positions of the departments and agencies which are seeking funds in the estimates are relevant questions for the purposes of estimates hearings. I remind officers that the Senate has resolved that there are no areas in connection with the expenditure of public funds where any person has a discretion to withhold details or explanations from the parliament or its committees unless the parliament has expressly provided otherwise.

The Senate has resolved also that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.

I particularly draw the attention of witnesses to an order of the Senate of 13 May 2009, specifying a process by which a claim of public interest immunity should be raised. Witnesses are specifically reminded that a statement that information or a document is confidential or consists of advice to government is not a statement that meets the requirements of the 2009 order. Instead, witnesses are required to provide some specific indication of the harm to the public interest that could result from the disclosure of the information in the document.

The extract read as follows—

Public interest immunity claims

That the Senate—

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

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

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

(1) If:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(13 May 2009 J.1941)

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

CHAIR: As I said in my opening, I welcome Senator the Hon. George Brandis QC, representing the Foreign Minister, and Mr Peter Varghese, the secretary to the department, and officers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Minister, do you wish to make an opening statement?

Senator Brandis: No, thank you.

Senator FAULKNER: This question, I think, is best directed to you, Mr Varghese. There has been quite some media discussion or analysis of staffing impacts and changes in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and I wonder whether I could perhaps start by exploring that a little and asking you what the current staffing establishment is in the department, please—you or whichever official you prefer perhaps to answer.

Mr Varghese : We are in the process at the moment of implementing the decisions taken by the government in the 2014-15 budget. That imposed savings measures on the portfolio. Our staffing numbers at the beginning of this financial year were 4,161. Since then, of course, we have also had an additional 54 added to our staffing numbers by the transfer of responsibilities under machinery-of-government arrangements for climate change and tourism, and that amounts to another 54. The budget imposes cuts on our operating expenditure of the order of $400 million over the forward estimates, of which $110 million will be in 2014-15. That translates to a reduction of around 500 staff that we will have to achieve by the end of the 2014-15 financial year. We have already taken decisions about how we will implement that reduction. We have conducted a rebasing exercise for numbers across divisions, including numbers at state offices and posts. We expect to be able to achieve the reduction target through voluntary redundancies and through a freeze on recruitment, not across the board but a freeze on recruitment in a number of areas. That is just a snapshot of where we are and I am happy to try to answer any of the detail.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that and it is helpful. So thank you for that. You talk of the figure of around 500 by the end of the 2014-15 financial year. Are you able to indicate, in the first instance, what might be the situation at the end of the 2015-16 financial year and the out years more generally, or at this stage are you unable to say? I suppose that I am asking this because I want to understand if it is the intention at this stage for no further staff reductions beyond the end of the 2014-15 financial year, because that certainly is not my understanding from the information that is available to me. But you might just care to comment on that.

Mr Varghese : We are working on the basis that, in order to meet the savings that were imposed on us in the budget, we will have to reach that 500 reduction target by the end of 2014-15. That would obviously represent a reduction in our base funding because we are reducing staffing numbers by that amount and would enable us to reach the savings over the forward estimates. Obviously, numbers in forward estimates can change from budget to budget. So, in terms of what we know now, that, in my view, would enable us to reach the savings number that we need to. So I am not contemplating any further reductions.

Senator FAULKNER: So at this stage, the very clear intention is to reach that target figure of a reduction of approximately 500 by the end of the financial year and, at this stage, there are no plans beyond that?

Mr Varghese : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: You have told me what the situation was in terms of the staffing establishment at the commencement of this financial year. They were the figures you gave in answer to an earlier question. Are you able to give us, to use your terminology, a snapshot of what the situation will be in a few weeks time, at the end of this current financial year? We have a figure for the beginning of the financial year. Are you able to step us through what the situation will be at the end of this financial year?

Mr Varghese : I think that will depend, in part, on how much progress we have made on voluntary redundancies. If you bear with me, I will just see if my—

Senator FAULKNER: Could you give us a picture of how that process is going, if that is an easier way to deal with the issue?

Mr Varghese : I can. I will just find the relevant statistics for you.

Senator WONG: While that is being done, could you just tell me whether we have the units correct? I assume that the figures you have given us and that you are currently working in are all ASLs—is that right—and not FTEs? No? Heads are shaking. Can we please clarify that? We are talking headcount?

Mr Varghese : The figures I gave you were FTE numbers, in terms of the reduction.

Senator WONG: As was the 4,161?

Mr Varghese : That is right.

Senator WONG: Could you also give us the ASL figures, because the PBS is in ASLs; correct?

Mr Varghese : Okay. I might see if Mr Wood can help us on that.

Senator WONG: That is fine. We can come back to it; I just thought I would put that now, and you can proceed to respond to Senator Faulkner.

Mr Wood : Just as a note, whilst we get that information for you, the ASL figures that are disclosed in the budget papers include locally engaged staff. So in Budget Paper 4 we have a footnote which refers to just over 2,000 locally engaged staff.

Mr Varghese : Chair, if I could get back to Senator Faulkner on his question in relation to voluntary redundancies, as at 22 May, which is the most recent figures I have, a total of 149 non-SES staff have left the department through a voluntary redundancy and 12 SES employees have accepted an incentive to retire. We have sought expressions of interest twice for voluntary redundancies and, since November 2013—that is since the beginning of integration—over 540 non-SES staff have lodged an expression of interest.

Senator FAULKNER: Sorry, since when?

Mr Varghese : Since November 2013—In other words, since the date of the integrated department—540 have expressed interest in a VR. This is non-SES numbers I am giving you. I have just given you the numbers who have exited.

Senator WONG: With the non-SES number—

Mr Varghese : Who have already left the department?

Senator WONG: Yes.

Mr Varghese : 149. We will obviously keep working through the expressions of interest and keep working through responding to those that have put their hand up for a VR package. We will do that for the balance of this financial year and we will continue to do it into the next financial year.

Senator FAULKNER: You used the terminology 'incentive to retire'. Could you explain why you were using that terminology?

Mr Varghese : The procedures for voluntary redundancies between SES and non-SES are different. The terminology for SES employees is usually an 'incentive to retire'. That, of course, requires the approval of the Public Service Commissioner, unlike the voluntary redundancies.

Senator FAULKNER: You were only using it in the sense that it is the appropriate terminology to use for a voluntary redundancy for an SES level officer?

Mr Varghese : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: I read in a—

Mr Varghese : Sorry, Senator. You also asked me about where I thought we would be by the end of the financial year.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I was going to come back to that.

Mr Varghese : On our current projections, we expect we will have 189 non-SES who have accepted a voluntary redundancy and we expect we will end the financial year with 15 SES level officers.

Mr Fisher : You asked about ASL levels as well. Our estimated ASL for the 2013-14 year is 6,175. That includes locally engaged staff. We estimate that for the 2014-15 financial year it is 5,640.

Senator WONG: Are you able to remind us of the 2012-13 ASL? Perhaps come back on that.

Mr Fisher : We can come back to you on that.

Senator WONG: Inclusive of AusAID, so for the portfolio. Otherwise you are not comparing apples with applies.

Mr Fisher : We can indeed.

Senator FAULKNER: On the figures I have seen mentioned, I have seen media reports that you informed the department of this general picture. It was described as a warning to staff—that may or may not be fair—pretty well in the week after the budget on the general picture. Is that true, Mr Varghese?

Mr Varghese : I issued messages to staff. It was certainly not a warning to staff—

Senator FAULKNER: That is why I said it was reported as a warning.

Mr Varghese : I appreciate that—the morning after the budget, outlining what the budget decisions were, and outlining how we were proposing to deal with it. I foreshadowed in that message that we had already conducted an FTE review and a rebasing exercise. I shared the outcome, the initial outcome, of that rebasing exercise and said that I would confirm it once the integration steering committee had met. I think the integration steering committee met on 26 May.

Senator FAULKNER: Could that message be made available to the committee? I have not seen it. I have merely seen media reports about it. Is it a message that is a standard message to all staff or are there different messages to SES and non-SES level staff?

Mr Varghese : No, it was a message to all staff. It is obviously a message designed for internal purposes, but if—

Senator FAULKNER: But, unfortunately, it has been externally commented upon.

Mr Varghese : It is unfortunate that internal messages are leaked. That is most unfortunate.

Senator FAULKNER: But I assume you would not have any concerns about that message being tabled here so that committee members could—

Mr Varghese : I am happy to share it with the committee.

Senator FAULKNER: I would appreciate that. The reason I ask for that is that it may well save a considerable number of questions, and it might be helpful to have that forthwith and, as I say, we can save time. Was that sent out by email to staff members? You communicated it the day after the budget. How was it communicated?

Mr Varghese : I am assuming that it would have gone out by email, by cable, probably also by hard copy. We would have got it out in many different ways in order to reach a global operation as quickly as possible.

Senator FAULKNER: Obviously, prior to its communication to staff, you had been able to do, as the departmental secretary and your senior officers, a considerable amount of work, given your understanding of where the budget would land, on the content of this communication and some at least preliminary planning about what the impacts of the budget would be?

Mr Varghese : We had done a lot of work about how we would deliver savings to the budget as a result of the integration of AusAID. It was clear that that was the expectation of government. So in preparing for the budget outcome, we had done a lot of work on how we might be able to deal with various levels of cuts. I think the fact that we were able to get a message out that quickly after the budget is simply a reflection of the fact that there had been a lot of ground work done.

Senator FAULKNER: In the figures that you have given as of 22 May, 149 non-SES staff and 12 SES staff, are you able to give a further breakdown there in relation to former AusAID as opposed to other departmental staff?

Mr Varghese : It is a 60-40 split. Sixty per cent are staff who had come to us from AusAID and 40 per cent are staff who had been in the department before integration.

Senator FAULKNER: Is that effectively in both these categories?

Mr Varghese : In terms of SES and non-SES?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes.

Mr Varghese : That is the case for the non-SES. I would have to check what the split is for SES. I do not know whether—

Senator FAULKNER: Let us not get bogged down on that issue. Just take it on notice. Obviously I would appreciate the communication to staff being tabled as soon as possible so that I can focus any questions as a result of the content of that document.

Mr Varghese : I actually can help you on that. Ms Rawson has kindly given me some further information. Again, these are as at 22 May. Formal offers that have been approved by the Public Service Commissioner were 17, of which 14 were former AusAID. Of those 17, the offers that were made and accepted, because there may be offers that have been made but not accepted, total 15, of which 12 were former AusAID.

Senator FAULKNER: How does that fit with the total of 12 that you gave earlier? I am a bit perplexed by that.

Senator WONG: Does that reflect your projected 2013-14 figure, a net reduction in 2015?

Mr Varghese : I am just trying to reconcile the two figures.

Senator FAULKNER: I am trying to as well. So we are both trying to reconcile the figures because the figures were 149 non-SES staff and 12 SES staff.

Senator WONG: Ms Rawson is looking very knowledgeable.

Senator FAULKNER: I am not sure that Ms Rawson actually has helped you. She sure has not helped me, I can tell you. Could we get the reconciliation of the figures? That would be good.

Mr Varghese : I might get Ms Rawson to disaggregate the figures.

Ms Rawson : The figure of 12 is where employment as at 22 May has ceased. That comprises former AusAID, a figure of nine, and pre-integration DFAT, a figure of three. So the formal offers made and accepted, which the secretary referred to, totals 15. The discrepancy is simply the formal offers made and accepted. But, as at 22 May, 12 of the 15 had actually ceased employment. The remaining three will do so over the coming weeks.

Senator FAULKNER: Mr Varghese, you mentioned a little earlier that you had obviously hoped that these reductions could be met effectively through voluntary redundancies or effectively natural attrition; that is how I took your earlier evidence but you can correct me if I am wrong in that regard. Could you or any of your officers indicate whether, while that is a hope, it is an expectation or whether there has been internal departmental planning for compulsory or involuntary redundancies? Someone might tell us about that.

Mr Varghese : It is more than a hope. It is very much my expectation that we will reach those numbers without resort to compulsory redundancies. I cannot guarantee you that, but I have every confidence that we will be able to do it.

Senator WONG: Chair, perhaps I might just follow up on a couple of things. Mr Varghese, in terms of the numbers that you have just given us, tell me if I have understood the evidence correctly. The ASL for 2013-14 is 6,175; and, for 2014-15, it is 5,640. If someone could get me what the 2012-13 figure is as well, that would be good. The footnote to which you have referred, Mr Wood, has a reduction of 40 in ASL of locally engaged as between 2013-14 and 2014-15. So your remainder of non-locally engaged ASL staff is 495; is that right?

Mr Fisher : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Is that the closest thing to a headcount?

Mr Fisher : It is a different measure. As you would understand—

Senator WONG: So what would the equivalent numbers of people be?

Mr Fisher : In terms of headcount, the actual number would be similar.

Senator WONG: Do you have that? Do you track that? Whilst I know, with ASL and FTEs, how you would look at your budget figures, I assume that you know how many actual individuals would make up those numbers.

Mr Fisher : We do, and we would look to a headcount of about the same reduction.

Senator WONG: So about 500 or thereabouts.

Mr Fisher : That is correct.

Senator WONG: Mr Varghese, the document, or the message, to which Senator Faulkner has referred, I think, is reported to say around 550; is that right, or is it less?

Mr Varghese : In terms of the reduction of staff?

Senator WONG: Correct.

Mr Varghese : The number that I used in the message was 500.

Senator FAULKNER: I am sorry; but can we push the tabling of that along?

Mr Varghese : I have it here and I am very happy to—

Senator FAULKNER: It just might save quite a bit of time, actually. I appreciate that; thank you.

Senator WONG: Thank you. I just want to clarify: you have a number of budget measures which are operating on your departmental funding, and I am just trying to get a sense of what is doing what, if that is okay. We have a $397 million reduction ostensibly to realise the efficiencies gained from merging AusAID into DFAT and more efficient modes of ODA administration. That is in Budget Paper No. 2, page 122. Then you have an additional measure which is a cap on departmental costs of five per cent of ODA, which is at page 121. My first question is this: these two measures are over and above any efficiency dividend requirement; correct?

Mr Fisher : Correct.

Senator WONG: So, in addition to these measures, DFAT also has to find efficiencies to meet the government's increased efficiency dividend for 2014-15 et cetera; is that right?

Mr Wood : That is correct. In the budget papers, I think $28.8 million over four years is the impact of the additional 0.25 per cent.

Senator WONG: That is $28 million?

Mr Wood : It is $28.8 million over four years.

Senator WONG: I just want to make sure that I understand. So, if you look at the reduction in departmental funding, you are looking at 397 plus 28.8 plus whatever is attributable to this five per cent cap; is that right?

Mr Wood : No. The measure that is disclosed in Budget Paper No. 2—smaller government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, realising efficiencies—incorporates the impact of that five per cent cap.

Senator WONG: Then why would it be separate? I am sorry to be pernickety, but you would not usually have two separate budget measures if one of them incorporated the other. Also, you have a departmental line item under the five per cent cap measure which normally, if the budget papers are correct, would include the departmental funding effect of that measure.

Mr Wood : That is correct. As you know, as a line department we do not have control of the wording of Budget Paper No. 2.

Senator WONG: No, but it is usually accurate.

Mr Wood : We do not have control of the wording, so I do not know why that refers to the five per cent cap under the ODA reprioritised funding measure.

Senator WONG: So your evidence is that, notwithstanding that the five per cent cap is in a separate measure and, in fact, there is a separate departmental funding line item, the $397.2 million on the next page incorporates the reductions from that measure?

Mr Wood : Correct.

Senator FAULKNER: As a non-former finance minister not always but often perplexed by budget papers, if I could put it in my layman's language: you are saying that the smaller government measure on page 122 of Budget Paper No. 2 is actually incorporated in those DFAT figures? Those figures are included in the DFAT figures that appear on earlier page 121 of Budget Paper No. 2? Is that what you are saying? Those figures are included; they are effectively a subset of the figures on page 121. That is my layman's question about Budget Paper No. 2. I think that is what is being said, is it not? Is that right?

Mr Wood : I think that is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: You have to be more definitive than that. Do you mean that you think it is correct? Either the figures on page 122—smaller government—Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade—realising efficiencies—are included in the ODA assistance, reprioritised funding, on earlier page 121 of Budget Paper No. 2 or they are not.

Senator WONG: Mr Wood, do you want to go and check that?

Mr Wood : Yes; sure.

Senator WONG: Have a look at the difference between the departmental line and the total expense line.

Senator FAULKNER: It is my amateurish question compared to the expert former finance minister's question.

Senator WONG: I do not think so. I do not understand it either, so it is not very expert.

Mr Wood : The figures that are referred to on page 121, ODA reprioritised funding, are administered expenses. So, on page 25 of our portfolio budget statements, they are under a line item of administered expenses. The figures that are reported under smaller government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, realising efficiencies, are departmental expenses; they are a reduction to our departmental budget.

Senator FAULKNER: But what Senator Wong was questioning you about—and I think this was the import of your evidence, as I understood it—was that, effectively, the figures on page 122, smaller government, are also incorporated into the figures of ODA assistance, which are on the earlier page. That was your evidence. All I am doing is just checking that that is correct.

Mr Wood : No, Senator—

Senator FAULKNER: It either is or it is not; and, up until about a minute ago, it was. It does not really matter, but I just think we need to be clear about this. I am sorry; it does matter. I just want to ensure that, with your evidence, we are comparing apples with apples here; that is the point of this questioning—

Mr Wood : Sure.

Senator FAULKNER: because we were not a moment ago.

Mr Wood : As I have said, the figures that are at page 122 are departmental; they are reductions to our departmental funding. The figures that are on page 121 are administered expenses; they are a reduction to the administered budget.

Senator WONG: And any departmental saving, save from the five per cent cap, you are telling us now, is in the smaller government budget measure?

Mr Wood : The departmental savings are in the smaller government measure; correct.

Senator WONG: Including from the five per cent cap.

Mr Wood : Correct.

Senator WONG: This might just take a little bit of time, but it would be really helpful: perhaps the best way is to just be clear about the reductions in departmental funding across the three outcomes. Essentially, I want the aggregate reduction in departmental funding in the 2014-15 budget.

Mr Wood : Okay.

Senator WONG: That would mean adding up, in the PBS, outcomes 1, 2 and 3—correct—plus the efficiency dividend impact and any impact of the budget measures; yes?

Mr Wood : Yes.

Senator WONG: Is that possible?

Mr Wood : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Does that mean that the footnote is at the end of the wrong table? That would appear to be the case.

Senator WONG: Is that clear?

Mr Wood : Yes. So what you are after is—

Senator WONG: The aggregate reduction in departmental funding across all outcomes as a result of the 2014-15 budget. The disaggregation that you have already given me, which was ED, as opposed to budget measures, I am happy with too. That might clarify it. Is that possible?

Mr Wood : Sure. By 'measures', you are referring to the smaller government measure and the efficiency dividend? We do have other measures which are additional funding. As you will note, in the budget papers we have funding for Baghdad, Afghanistan and counter people smuggling. So those are a plus to our departmental funding.

Senator WONG: Yes, but they are separately indicated.

Mr Wood : Yes.

Mr McDonald : We are just going to table a second note from the secretary in relation to staffing reductions; so there was a second note, which is now coming around as well.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. So, effectively, Mr Varghese's message was the day after the budget. Is that right, Mr Varghese?

Mr Varghese : That is right. I foreshadowed in that that the steering committee would meet to confirm the preliminary advice, and the second note provides that confirmation.

Senator FAULKNER: I have not yet read it, but it has just been handed to me, so thank you for that. Mr  McDonald, you are saying that there is a second or subsequent note to that which you are also tabling; is that right?

Mr McDonald : Yes. There are two notes: the one immediately after the budget; and then the one that follows straight after the steering committee, which was referred to in the first note.

Senator FAULKNER: For the fullness of the record, in relation to the second note—I have just got it here—it is called an attachment. That also has gone, effectively, to all staff.

Mr Varghese : Yes; it was a message to all staff and it was exactly the same in distribution as the first message.

Senator FAULKNER: That went out subsequently, we know. When did that go out? The first one went out the day after the budget; when did the second one go out?

Mr Varghese : I think the second one went out the day after the steering committee met; is that right?

Ms Rawson : That was 28 May.

Mr Varghese : That was 28 May.

Senator WONG: While Senator Faulkner reads the tables, perhaps I can just clarify with Mr Woods: the note here of $400 million and $110 million is only Budget Paper No. 2—smaller government. Is that right?

Mr Wood : Correct. On page 122 is that measure, $397.2 over four years. That is also reflected on page 24 of our portfolio budget statements.

Senator WONG: To which one adds the additional ED, which you said, I think, was $26.8 million for 2014-15.

Mr Wood : Yes. In total, it is $28.8. It is split across our operating expenses and our departmental capital budget. Again, that is disclosed separately on page—

Senator WONG: So how much is departmental?

Mr Wood : The departmental is $27.581 million over four years and that is in table 1.2 of our budget statement.

Senator WONG: So that would mean you are looking at about $430 million-something. Is the 27.58 only for the one year, or is that for the forward estimates?

Mr Wood : It is over the forward estimates. The profile is $3.153 million in 2014-15, then $6.105 million, then $9.123 million and then $9.2 million in 2017-18.

Senator WONG: But, basically, it is about $420 million-odd in efficiencies and smaller government measures.

Mr Wood : The combination—

Senator WONG: Departmental?

Mr Wood : Yes. The combination of those is about $425 million over four years.

Senator WONG: Can you remind me what your total appropriation is?

Mr Wood : I am sorry?

Senator WONG: What is the total departmental appropriation? What percentage of your current departmental appropriation has been cut?

Mr Wood : Sure. The departmental appropriation in 2014-15 is about $1.3 billion.

Senator WONG: Including capital or not?

Mr Wood : The capital is—

Senator WONG: Does the figure that you just gave me include capital?

Mr Wood : Correct. It is $1.3 billion operating. We get about $53 million in our capital budget and about $81 million in equity funding.

Senator WONG: I cannot do the maths in my head. What proportion of your current departmental budget ex capital—let us live in a non-capital world for the purposes of this discussion—is the $400 million-something?

Mr Wood : The $1.4 billion figure that I gave you is just for one year. In 2014-15, our operating funding is that $1.3 billion figure. We take off the capital, so it is $1.3 billion. Our total save, which is the $109.7million plus that $3 million, is about $112 million. So it is—

Senator WONG: Just under 10 per cent?

Mr Wood : Correct, yes, it is about eight or nine.

Senator WONG: I am sorry?

Mr Wood : Correct, yes, it is probably about eight or nine per cent.

Senator WONG: So you are looking at, what, an eight or nine per cent reduction every year; is that right?

Mr Wood : Pretty much, yes.

Senator WONG: Has DFAT ever had a reduction of that level in departmental funding?

Mr Varghese : I would think in the budget in 1996.

Senator WONG: The last would be 1996, in terms of proportion. I do not want nominal figures but as a proportion of your departmental appropriation?

Mr Varghese : It might have been more in 1996.

Mr Wood : There have been some reductions in the past. There have been some targeted savings. I think, a couple of years ago, there was a targeted saving—

Senator WONG: I remember.

Mr Wood : for DFAT, which is still obviously working through the system.

Senator WONG: Can I just go back to the voluntary redundancies? Mr Varghese, when were the offers made in the round that is currently in progress?

Mr Varghese : We made a first offer of voluntary redundancies immediately after the integration, in November last year.

Senator WONG: How many offers were made then?

Mr Varghese : It was an open invitation to express an interest. Then we work through, obviously, the expressions of interest. We do financial estimates for them and decide whether we would make an offer or not.

Senator WONG: So was it an open offer to the whole of the department or just to—

Mr Varghese : To the whole department.

Senator WONG: So not even particular branches or divisions?

Mr Varghese : No.

Senator WONG: How many expressions of interest did you receive at that point?

Mr Varghese : Since November, we have got 540.

Senator WONG: Hence your confidence about voluntary redundancies; is that right?

Mr Varghese : Yes. I think the level of interest suggests that we will get there through VRs and natural attrition.

Senator WONG: So was it 500?

Mr Varghese : It was 540.

Senator WONG: That is individuals.

Mr Varghese : Individuals. These are non-SES numbers that I am giving you.

Senator WONG: What proportion of your non-SES staff is that?

Mr Varghese : The 500 figure is about 12 per cent of our overall staff. So 540 of non-SES would be a bigger number than 12 per cent.

Senator WONG: So about one in seven people put their hand up; would that be right? Would it be about that?

Mr Fisher : Yes, probably about 16 per cent.

Senator WONG: Just take me through the process, and I apologise if you went through some of this last time. You had the expressions of interest and you got in 540 expressions of interest. What is the next step in the process?

Mr Varghese : The next step would be to do financial estimates. In other words, it would be to indicate to those who have expressed an interest what the final numbers might look like. On the basis of that, either they would express an interest in continuing with the process or they might decide not to continue with the process. If they express an interest in continuing with the process, we, as the managers, would then need to make a decision as to whether we would or would not make the offer.

Senator WONG: Mr Varghese, before I move on with this process, I do want to ask you, as secretary, whether there was a concern to you that such a high proportion of your staff expressed an interest in leaving the agency.

Mr Varghese : You have to see this in the context of the integration of AusAID with DFAT. It was, I think, reasonably clear that the integration would require the delivery of savings to the government. It was also the case that, even without integration, AusAID would have had to go through a downsizing because they were geared up to run an $8 billion program and we are now running a $5 billion program. So if you take the context into account, I do not think that is a level that causes me particular concern.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I follow up on that point? Mr Varghese, can you confirm, based on what you were just saying, that the program of voluntary redundancies had, in fact, started in DFAT and AusAID before the election?

Mr Varghese : It had not started in DFAT. I cannot speak—

Senator FAWCETT: But in AusAID, there were voluntary redundancies?

Mr Varghese : I cannot speak for what happened before AusAID came into DFAT, but I do know that it was in contemplation. Whether it had started, I do not know. It was certainly in contemplation.

Senator FAWCETT: But across a number of government departments, the former government had started, through their efficiency dividends, to require reductions in staffing numbers. We had seen cuts in staffing certainly planned. The reality of that was occurring after the election, but the actual planning for that had occurred before the election?

Mr Varghese : It was certainly the case that many agencies were going through a process of voluntary redundancies, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: So can you tell us how many Australian-based staff were employed by AusAID back in 2007 and how large had that number grown to by 2013?

Mr Varghese : I do not have those numbers with me, but I will see whether we can find them and get them to you.

CHAIR: Do you want to take that on notice, gentlemen? Can you get that back to us today, do you think? Thank you.

Senator FAWCETT: But you can confirm, though, that DFAT's intention remains that these redundancies will be via voluntary redundancies? It is your aim to do all of that by natural attrition and voluntary redundancies?

Mr Varghese : Yes, and that was the message I reiterated in my post-budget message to staff.

Senator WONG: Just on that 540, what proportion or what number were from the former AusAID functions?

Mr Varghese : I will just see whether Ms Rawson has additional information. Of the ones that went all the way through to accepting a redundancy, the distribution was 60 per cent ex AusAID and 40 per cent DFAT. In terms of the expressions of interest, I do not know whether those numbers vary, but Ms Rawson may know.

Ms Rawson : I cannot do the percentages in my head but, in terms of actual numbers, for the first round of expressions of interest in November 2013, the total of expressions of interest was 368, of which 223 were former AusAID and 145 were pre-integration DFAT, with a very small number of those who came to DFAT from climate change. The second round of—

Senator WONG: Can we just stop for a moment? I want to give you the opportunity to give all that evidence, but I want to go through each stage of the process, if I may. I am a little confused by the numbers you gave me. I asked: of the 540 expressions of interest, how many were from the two different—

Ms Rawson : There were two rounds of expressions of interest. The first round was in November 2013 and expressions of interest were reopened in April 2014. So the total figure of the expressions of interest was that 543. Then, in the second round, the total was 175, of which former AusAID were 116 and pre-integration DFAT, 59.

Senator WONG: So, secretary, we are talking 214 or thereabouts, is that right, former DFAT of the 540?

Mr Varghese : Yes, a reasonable proportion were former DFAT—40 per cent, in terms of the finals.

Senator WONG: What is your natural attrition rate?

Mr Varghese : I know it is relatively low by Public Service standards.

Mr Fisher : Two or three per cent.

Senator WONG: So a 12 per cent reduction is substantially beyond natural attrition, obviously?

Mr Fisher : Of course, yes.

Senator WONG: I understand that AusAID had—at the SES level, I am asking—specialists in particular areas. I just wonder how many of the AusAID SES 12, I think, of the 15 were specialists.

Mr Varghese : We might need to take that on notice, I think.

Senator WONG: If you could come back on that, we would appreciate it.

Mr Fisher : Could I correct, for the record, that the 10-year average of the national attrition rate for DFAT is 5.7 per cent and the 2012-13 attrition rate was 4.6 per cent. That was for the former DFAT.

CHAIR: Is that below average?

Mr Fisher : It is still below average, yes.

Senator WONG: In 2012-13?

CHAIR: Senator Wong, Senator Fawcett also has some questions in this area. Do you mind if we call him?

Senator WONG: No, go ahead.

CHAIR: And Senator Ludwig also.

Senator EDWARDS: I have questions.

CHAIR: That is fine. Thank you. Senator Fawcett.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Varghese, we have spent nearly an hour focusing on numbers, but it is not just the inputs of the numbers that characterise the quality of the outcomes. Can you talk to us about some of the ways the government is looking to be more efficient in using resources to deliver outcomes? I understand that, with the UK, we are looking at sharing resources in terms of posts. Can you talk a bit about some of those initiatives?

Mr Varghese : We are, indeed, looking at how we can improve efficiencies through collaboration with other countries, of which the UK is only one. One example of that is our recent decision to co-locate our mission in Baghdad with the UK mission and that will, over time, result in very significant savings, particularly in relation to security costs. We are looking at a range of measures which could result in savings in relation to whether we do more regional hubbing of particular administrative support in our global operations. We have a continuing program of identifying where A-based positions may be able to be localised because of the cost differential between an A-based position and locally engaged positions. We have a continuous management improvement program. We have introduced a capability review action plan, and this goes back to a capability review that was done under the auspices of the Public Service Commission last year, which came up with some further observations on departmental systems and improvements in that regard. So there is both a formal management improvement plan in place as well as looking to how we can increase efficiencies through better collaboration.

Senator FAWCETT: I would be interested to get an idea of whether you have a particular target in mind. Clearly, from the government's perspective, we have inherited debt to the extent that we are spending a billion dollars a month on interest, so every area where we can get the same outcomes more efficiently is important. I am interested to know if you have a particular target that you are seeking to achieve in terms of those efficiencies.

Mr Varghese : In one sense the target is imposed on us by the budget numbers. We have just spent a lot of time talking about what the savings numbers are. Our target is to live within those savings measures and minimise the reduction in effectiveness. That is essentially our target.

Senator FAWCETT: Which other countries are you working with in addition to the UK?

Mr Varghese : We are working with Canada. We do quite a lot with Canada across the board in terms of management. We have, for instance, a property group which includes the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which looks at how we each handle our overseas property portfolio. The countries will vary according to the issue. With co-location, we would have a reasonably open mind as to which countries may be interested in that.

Senator FAWCETT: Is there a formal process? You have mentioned the properties group, but is there a formal process between those like-minded nations looking to actively identify the opportunities for collaboration?

Mr Varghese : We have a formal process with the United Kingdom, which goes through each of our management agendas to see where we could do more together. We have a reasonably formal process also with the Canadians.

Senator FAWCETT: Is that done at your level? Do you have a regular meeting of secretaries or is there a group within—

Mr Varghese : I have met twice with my UK counterpart in the year-and-a-half I have been in this job and twice with my Canadian counterpart. While the purpose of those meetings is to cover a whole range of policy issues, we also spend a significant amount of time talking about management issues. With the Brits, we have a more formal exchange at the deputy secretary-chief operating officer level.

Senator FAWCETT: In your discussions with them, particularly with the UK, with the budgetary pressures they have been under, do they express similar constraints and concerns in terms of seeking to operate more efficiently?

Mr Varghese : Most foreign ministries these days are facing a similar set of challenges about how to operate effectively in a more budget constrained environment. Different countries have made different progress. We started down this path quite some time ago. We are obviously interested if there are other things we can learn.

Senator FAWCETT: You mentioned Baghdad as one location. Are there other locations that have been identified at this point in time to achieve these efficiencies?

Mr Varghese : As we look at the long-term future of our presence in Afghanistan, we will be looking, and already are looking very closely, at whether there are options in Kabul for co-location. Again, it is a very high cost security environment for us.

Senator FAWCETT: You mentioned changing the ratio of Australian based positions. What are the criteria you would use to make that determination that you can perhaps use more locally engaged people versus Australian based?

Mr Varghese : This is a process that has been ongoing for a very long time, looking at whether A-based positions might be able to be localised. Clearly, on the administrative side, there has historically been scope to do that, although we are probably reaching the limits of localisation. Essentially, it is a position-by-position analysis to see whether the labour market, for instance, in that country would have the right pool of skills that you are looking for, and the nature of the work, obviously. If you are engaged in representational work or advocacy work, as a general proposition you would want to do that with an Australian officer rather than a locally engaged officer. It is a question of a combination of the nature of the duties and the nature of the local labour market.

Senator FAWCETT: Could you talk to us also about the process of integration of AusAID and DFAT in terms of the efficiencies that you are achieving there, not just in terms of cost but also in terms of effectiveness of the outcomes of both our foreign policy and our aid delivery objectives?

Mr Varghese : On the policy side, this will be the subject of a major speech that the foreign minister is planning to deliver on 18 June, when she will set out the policy framework for the aid program, including a recalibration of our focus and also work that we have done on benchmarking. That will go to your question of the efficient delivery of aid and the effectiveness of aid.

On the management side, clearly, when you bring two relatively large organisations together, there are going to be economies of scale that will deliver efficiencies. As we did our rebasing exercise to accommodate the budget savings, we made reasonably substantial reductions, for instance, in our corporate management areas and our IT areas which reflect economies of scale. So you get efficiencies through those sorts of economies of scale.

Senator FAWCETT: In terms of your overseas operations, I am assuming there are also some efficiencies in terms of co-location within the post of both DFAT and what were AusAID staff now all coming under DFAT I am aware certainly from various colleagues who have been overseas at times that there has been quite a significant split in identification at times—that AusAID very much wanted to be seen as separate and doing their own thing. On a recent trip to Vanuatu, I have seen that where the two come together there are actually a lot of efficiencies in that co-location.

Mr Varghese : There certainly are some efficiencies to be gained. We have had a long history of working closely together with what was formerly AusAID. The level of integration may have varied from post to post, but certainly heads of mission were very conscious of the need to have an integrated effort. Bringing the two agencies together clearly does create some further efficiencies at post, including where functions were being duplicated and we can bring them together. In any event, we had to go through a rationalisation of our overseas footprint as it related to development positions because of the shifting size and mix of the aid budget. For instance, with the sharper focus on the Indo-Pacific region, we will be doing less in Africa, which means the footprint we have in Africa on the development cooperation side is going to be different to what it was 12 months ago. Those sorts of changes will also occur.

Senator FAWCETT: In terms of the quality of the outcomes, which, at the end of the day, is what we are mainly concerned with, I have heard some anecdotal evidence from some of your staff that this integration has actually provided a more substantial pool from which DFAT can choose its leaders in various posts. Is that something that has been noted within DFAT—that you can now pick the person with the best skill set from both those streams?

Mr Varghese : We are working off a bigger pool and we have now run about five integrated placement exercises. I think we are doing our first integrated postings exercise as well. Obviously, you have more flexibility with larger numbers and with a more layered skill set. So I think that is the case.

Senator FAULKNER: But you have not got larger numbers, have you, Mr Varghese?

Mr Varghese : Larger numbers compared to pre-integration.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but you have told us about a reduction in staff of 500. I do not claim to be a brilliant mathematician, but even I would come to the conclusion that that is not larger numbers.

Mr Varghese : Senator, it is larger numbers when you compare the size of DFAT pre-integration and the size of DFAT post-integration, including the reduction of 500.

Senator FAULKNER: It is much smaller numbers when you consider the size of DFAT plus AusAID pre-integration and then the end point that is 500 people less.

Mr Varghese : With respect, Senator Fawcett was asking me whether we now had a larger pool, as an integrated department, from which to draw on, and clearly we have.

Senator FAULKNER: I know what Senator Fawcett was asking but I am merely making the obvious point that the pre-integration AusAID plus DFAT was 500 more than the cutbacks as a result of this budget. That is the evidence that has been received. I do not care how you define it; that is a much smaller pool by 500 people.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I clarify that the reason I am raising these points is that ultimately what the taxpayer should be expecting us to be doing is optimising outcomes, regardless of the shape or size of inputs, and when you consider—

Senator WONG: You mean people. 'Inputs' are people in this conversation.

Senator FAWCETT: When you consider the debt that we are paying interest on, we are borrowing money to pay a billion dollars a month in interest. In South Australia's case that would be six new Royal Adelaide Hospitals that we are borrowing money to pay in interest on your debt. If the department can achieve some more efficiencies, still deliver good outcomes and help us pay down that debt—

Senator WONG: Actually, you are closing beds in South Australia, if you want to raise hospitals.

Senator FAWCETT: Well, that is not—

Senator WONG: Let us not start a political discussion about the fact that there is not only no new hospital; you are closing beds by reducing funding. Let us get back to the issue before the chair, shall we?

Senator Brandis: Mr Chairman, I was listening with interest to what Senator Fawcett had to say before Senator Wong very rudely spoke across him. Could you perhaps enable Senator Fawcett to speak without interruption?

CHAIR: Please, Senator Wong—

Senator WONG: He is giving a lecture.

CHAIR: Let the minister say what he wants to without interruption, if you do not mind.

Senator Brandis: I was merely complaining that I was listening with interest to what Senator Fawcett had to say when Senator Wong rudely spoke across him. I was wondering if Senator Fawcett would be allowed to continue.

CHAIR: Yes, Senator, he should.

Senator FAWCETT: Indeed. We will come back to foreign affairs. I do need to clarify and correct the record, though, regarding what Senator Wong said. Health funding is increasing by nine per cent. If the state government choose to reduce beds, that is their call. It is not due to the federal budget. Thanks, Chair.

CHAIR: Senator Ludwig.

Senator LUDWIG: I want to go to answer to question No. 212 relating to the ministerial website. It indicated what I can only describe as an extraordinary amount of money spent on the web, a total of $113,130.19. I am sure Senator Brandis's website did not cost near that amount.

Senator Brandis: I do not know what website design costs, Senator Ludwig. It is not really an area that I take a lot of interest in, to be honest.

Senator LUDWIG: I am seeking an explanation for why the website testing cost $68,000. It must have had an army of bureaucrats with keys to their fingers, tapping away. Training was $19,000. Website release management was $15,000. Website deployment—I presume pressing the button to put it up—cost 10 grand. Could someone take me through these costs?

CHAIR: Can an officer come to the table to deal with this, please?

Mr Varghese : I will see if there is someone in a position to answer that, Senator.

Senator Brandis: It may have taken some of the public servants a bit of time to adjust from the more lazy habits encouraged by the previous government, Senator Ludwig, as to the expenditure of public money.

Senator LUDWIG: They have certainly let their hair down here, though. What I wanted to know and understand is the total cost of the website. By looking at other websites and their costs, they generally run around a couple of grand, not much more than that. This one topped out at $113,130.19. What I was after was (1) an explanation and (2) a breakdown of the total costs of each minister's website with regard to website testing. Can you provide the details about that? Please take it on notice if you do not have it available to us. You can, if you want, in answering the question, provide a short answer if you have one. I have a list of others, but if we can just start there.

Mr Dao : I am sorry, Senator; I am going to have to take that on notice to table the details.

Senator LUDWIG: You do not have an explanation of why—

CHAIR: He said he would take it on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: $113,130.19—

Mr Dao : I do not have an accurate answer to that. I would like to make sure it is correct before I give that answer.

Senator LUDWIG: Have you got question No. 212? It was a question on notice in writing, No. 212. That is where it details your answer. Do you have that?

Mr Dao : No, I do not have that with me.

Senator LUDWIG: Why don't you have that?

Mr Varghese : We will take that on notice. Not every officer in the department has a copy of every question on notice answer.

Senator WONG: Someone does.

Senator LUDWIG: You answered them. I am sure you would have.

Mr Varghese : Not every officer present here—

Senator WONG: No, that is true.

Mr Varghese : has a copy of all of them.

Senator WONG: But someone, I am sure; you are an organised department—

Senator FAULKNER: Why not, Mr Varghese, is the question.

Mr Varghese : Because we run an efficient operation, Senator.

Senator WONG: Someone in the room has it, I am sure.

CHAIR: I am sure they do somewhere in the bowels of the department, but not necessarily in this committee room.

Mr Varghese : I have a copy of that particular question in front of me.

Senator LUDWIG: Do you know why?

Mr Varghese : I will take it on notice, Senator.

Senator LUDWIG: So I do not waste any time I will quickly go through some of the issues I wanted to explore: the breakdown of website testing by each minister; the details of the contract that was provided as well; what form of tender was taken to achieve that outcome; and was there a panel selection and so on? With regard to the training, the same issues arise: the detail by each individual minister; was it a one for all—we got three ministers for the total sum of $19,000 worth of training—who was the training provided to; what was the training for; was there a contract; if there was a contract who provided the tender; was it a tender process, an open competitive tender, or a panel; and what firms were eventually successful, if there was more than one?

And the same questions for the website release management. I do not even understand what that is. Perhaps an explanation of what that is can be given. It cost somebody 15 grand to manage the website release, I assume. Then the same issue about whether there was a separate company involved or whether it was the same, and how did they get the contract. Then there is the website deployment. I have never seen that before. Perhaps you could also provide an explanation as to how there is some contract of $10,000 for the deployment of a website.

Senator Brandis: As Mr Varghese has said, we will take those questions on notice. Some of these terms are as opaque to me as they apparently are to you. I should point out, in case you did not mention it, for the record, that the total is described as the 'full redevelopment of three websites on a new platform'. Obviously, there was a substantial body of new work done in relation to three websites. That might go some way to explaining the ultimate cost. We will take that on notice.

Senator LUDWIG: I did start off by asking for an explanation, which was not forthcoming. I am happy to take yours, Senator Brandis, with the caveats that it will be looked at by the secretary and an answer provided. Thank you very much.

CHAIR: That concludes your questions?

Senator LUDWIG: Yes.

CHAIR: Senator Edwards.

Senator EDWARDS: Thank you very much, Chair, and good morning everyone. You would remember from the February estimates that I took a strong interest in the former foreign minister's activities in the lead-up to the last election. The book has been out now since February, the 'Bob Carr Diary of a Foreign Minister', which I suspect is treated with different attitudes from within the department.

Senator Brandis: I am told it is moving off the shelves very slowly, Senator Edwards. I was talking to a leading publisher the other night who told me that the sales have been very poor, which is perhaps not surprising.

Senator EDWARDS: They might have chosen a different cover, perhaps. If I could go to that, when was the department first aware that Mr Carr was writing a book?

Mr Varghese : I do not think we were ever formally advised that he was writing a book. I do recall that Senator Carr did seek some access to documents. When we provided access to those documents we did ask him that if he were intending to publish we would appreciate an opportunity to have a look at the text.

Senator EDWARDS: We will probably get to that. You were never advised in writing?

Mr Varghese : I would have to double-check that when he made the request for access to documents there was not a reference to writing a book. I will take that particular point on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: If you would.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Varghese, can I just ask you to recall back to estimates last year, in fact on 5 June, that I asked Senator Carr specifically, and I am quoting here: 'Minister, have you or has anyone acting on your behalf been in contact with a publisher regarding a book you have written or are in the process of writing?' Do you recall what he answered?

Mr Varghese : Sorry, Senator, could you just ask that again?

Senator FAWCETT: I asked Mr Carr at the time, if he was in the process of writing a book, if he had contacted publishers or if anyone else was in the process of writing a book on his behalf. Do you recall what he answered?

Mr Varghese : I do not off the top of my head, no.

Senator FAWCETT: The answer was a very explicit no. Given that he has now written a book, would that not be a misleading of the Senate or the committee?

Senator Brandis: I do not know that that is a fair question to a public servant.

Senator FAWCETT: I will ask you then, Minister.

Senator Brandis: Yes, I think it would be.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.

Senator EDWARDS: What was the date of that?

Senator WONG: Let me show you how to ask this!

Senator EDWARDS: Chair, I am interested—

CHAIR: Order, please!

Senator EDWARDS: I am interested in the date of that representation from the former foreign minister.

Senator FAWCETT: 5 June.

CHAIR: 5 June for the record.

Mr Varghese : If I could just get back to Senator Edwards' question. I said that I would check when he wrote to me about access to documents he mentioned his book. I can confirm that he did in fact in that correspondence indicate that he was writing a book. That was on 9 December 2013.

Senator EDWARDS: At the suggestion of Senator Fawcett he developed a view that he should write a book in the six months that followed that question?

Mr Varghese : I have no comment on that.

Senator EDWARDS: I will move on.

CHAIR: It is very hard to read Senator Carr.

Senator EDWARDS: You refer then to some access to documents. Did Mr Carr seek access to records of a conversation of his meetings with foreign officials? You just said that he sought documents. Was it of the conversations that he had with foreign officials or any diplomats?

Mr Varghese : Some of the records that he sought included records of conversation.

Senator KROGER: Is it possible, Mr Varghese, to give us an account of all the documents and records he did seek access to?

Mr Varghese : Yes. There were not very many. I do not think that would be a problem.

Senator EDWARDS: Did Mr Carr provide you with a list of those?

Mr Varghese : Well, he sought access to documents. He specified the documents that—

Senator EDWARDS: So there must be a list somewhere; is there?

Mr Varghese : he was seeking access to.

Senator KROGER: Are you reading from that list at the moment?

Mr Varghese : No, I am not reading from a list. I am reading from a description of the correspondence. I am happy to follow up your question, Senator Kroger.

Senator Brandis: The brief note I have tells me that the documents related to official travel undertaken by Mr Carr. I cannot be more specific than that. As Mr Varghese has said, we will take it on notice.

Mr Varghese : I can indicate that in October he sought access to documents relating to his visits to Ramallah and Russia, and in December he sought access to records relating to his visit to the UAE. That is probably the full story of access requested.

CHAIR: So you think that is a complete list?

Senator EDWARDS: That is a complete list, is it?

Mr Varghese : Subject to me confirming that there is not anything else.

Senator EDWARDS: No worries.

Senator KROGER: Mr Varghese, with that list, though, was that access to his travel itinerary? Was it access to the officials or ministers or ambassadors that he met on those trips? Was it access to memorandums that had been written in relation to each of those—perhaps transmissions from the ambassadors in situ about the meetings, the content of the meetings? What was it in relation to?

Mr Varghese : As I recall—and I am just going on memory here—the documents that he sought for the most part related to either records of conversation of meetings that he held during those visits or reporting from the post about the visit.

Senator KROGER: So it would have been an account from the post about the visit—

Mr Varghese : In at least one case, Senator.

Senator KROGER: and meetings. Which particular case was that?

Mr Varghese : That was in relation to his visit to the UAE.

Senator EDWARDS: So that was the only one that you released?

Mr Varghese : No. We gave him access to the documents that he sought.

Senator EDWARDS: Right—

Mr Varghese : which is the custom, unless there are exceptional reasons not to.

Senator EDWARDS: Mr Varghese, if you could, on notice, provide us with a list of all of those requests?

Mr Varghese : Sure.

Senator EDWARDS: Obviously they are the ones that you supplied because you say that that is common practice. Did Mr Carr seek access to any ministerial, cabinet or National Security Council submissions?

Mr Varghese : Not to my knowledge. I do not control cabinet documents, though.

Senator EDWARDS: No. That is fair enough. Did Mr Carr provide the department with a list of submissions he wished to access at all in relation to that? There was no list? Was the request made formally, if there was?

Mr Varghese : As I said, he wrote on two occasions requesting access to particular documents. I will now check and find out what those documents are.

Senator EDWARDS: No worries. Did you at any stage seek to comment on the draft of the book?

Mr Varghese : I never saw a draft of the book.

Senator Brandis: I think Mr Varghese said earlier, if I heard him correctly, that Mr Carr was asked to provide to the department a draft of the book but evidently that was not done.

Senator EDWARDS: The response being a negative one, did that come formally or were you ignored?

Mr Varghese : I did not receive a response to my request.

Senator EDWARDS: So you were ignored?

Mr Varghese : Well, I did not receive a response.

Senator EDWARDS: What was the date of your correspondence?

Mr Varghese : I wrote to Mr Carr on 18 February 2014. That was in response to his request of 9 December 2013. That was the request for access to documents relating to his visit to the UAE. I wrote to him on 8 November 2013 in response to a request he made on 21 October 2013 for access to certain documents relating to his visits to Ramallah and Russia.

CHAIR: We will have to leave it there because we have arrived at morning tea time. There are certain senators who are very anxious to have a cup of tea. We will resume at quarter to. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 10:30 to 10 : 45

CHAIR: I officially reconvene this meeting.

Mr Varghese : Chair, could I come back on two issues that were raised before the break. Senator Fawcett asked about the change in numbers for AusAID staff since 2007. I can advise the committee that in 2007-08 AusAID had 798 officers employed under the Public Service Act—in other words, APS employees. In 2012-13 AusAID had 1,704 in that category. Senator Wong raised the question of whether any specialists had taken an incentive to retire. With your permission I will ask Ewen McDonald to respond to that.

Mr McDonald : The answer to that is no. In fact some of those have been renewed during this period as well.

Senator KROGER: I want to follow up on one of the matters you raised, Mr Varghese, before the break, in relation to access to the briefing notes from the visit to the UAE that the former minister had sought. Which particular visit to the UAE was he seeking access to documents from?

Mr Varghese : It was in May 2013.

Senator KROGER: Thank you.

Senator EDWARDS: Before the break we were talking about Mr Carr's obvious refusal to acknowledge a formal communication seeking a draft of his book. In fact, he ignored you. Did you attempt in any way to engage with Mr Carr after that, prior to the book's publication?

Mr Varghese : No, I did not have any engagement with Senator Carr prior to the book's publication.

Senator EDWARDS: So it was futile?

Mr Varghese : Well, I had—

Senator EDWARDS: I guess you had made—

Mr Varghese : I had made a request and—

Senator EDWARDS: It was ignored?

Mr Varghese : I did not receive a response.

Senator EDWARDS: So you would never have had an opportunity to ask Mr Carr to retract any section of his diary?

Mr Varghese : I never saw a draft manuscript.

Senator EDWARDS: What are the risks with Mr Carr publishing a detailed account of his experience as foreign minister so very soon after holding office?

Mr Varghese : I think the foreign minister has made some public comments about that. I do not think I can add anything to what the foreign minister has said.

Senator EDWARDS: It is almost a bit greedy, isn't it? It seems a bit greedy. In actual fact, on page 65 we see some evidence of that. In the book it says: 'I levitate above it, determined to squeeze this job for all it's worth. For Australia. For me.' It just goes to type, I guess. Did the department receive any expressions of concern from partner governments following the release of Mr Carr's diary?

Mr Varghese : Not to my knowledge. No-one has raised that with me and I do not think it has been raised with the department.

Senator EDWARDS: Are you aware of media reports? I quote:

officials in the United States are unhappy Mr Carr has made explicit the contents of intelligence material shared with Australia, including a CIA report on the character of rebels in Libya …

Mr Varghese : I am aware of that media report.

Senator EDWARDS: If that has got into the media, it does not seem that they were too happy about it. What is the response of the United States government to Mr Carr's book?

Mr Varghese : I do not think there has been a response from the United States government.

Senator EDWARDS: There have been no official representations or seeking of further clarification on any aspect of Mr Carr's diary?

Mr Varghese : Not to my knowledge.

Senator EDWARDS: Minister, are you aware of anything?

Senator Brandis: I am not, Senator Edwards. I saw the media report to which you referred. We will take on notice whether either there has been a cable or any other communication from the embassy in the United States concerning Mr Carr's book and whether there has been any representation, formal or informal, to the Australian government from the American government concerning Mr Carr's book. Let me give the minister the opportunity to consider, if there is, what, if anything, can be released to you. I know there has been informal conversation about it. It has been a matter of remark. Whether it goes beyond just gossip about Mr Carr's lack of discretion, I am not in a position to tell you.

Senator EDWARDS: Is there anybody in the room that can assist?

Mr Varghese : I am reasonably confident that there have been no representations to the department from the United States. I will do you the courtesy of triple-checking it.

Senator EDWARDS: Thank you. What was the reaction of the Maltese government to the reference in Mr Carr's diary that a comment by their foreign minister had become 'an office joke'?

Mr Varghese : I have not seen any representations from the Maltese government on this matter either.

Senator Brandis: Again, we will take that on notice for you, Senator Edwards, on the same basis. We will see if there has been any communication from the mission or any formal or informal representation on behalf of that government. If there has been, and to the extent to which it is appropriate to release it to you, we will release it.

Senator KROGER: Minister, you would have to accept that the extraordinary extent of the former foreign minister's indiscretion in openly canvassing what should, in the normal course of events, be confidential meetings and the content thereof does create a diplomatic issue for us, given that there has only recently been a federal election with a change of government ministers in office?

Senator Brandis: Senator Kroger, I actually have not read Senator Carr's—

Senator KROGER: I can help you.

Senator Brandis: Life is too short and there are too many other things of more merit to read. I have read extracts of it in the press. Certainly, the tone and in some cases the substance of those extracts were, in my judgement, very indiscreet and inappropriate, and in some respects I thought rather vulgar, frankly. I am not aware that Mr Carr caused what is sometimes called a diplomatic incident. It is important that foreign governments be able to trust that, when they speak to an Australian minister, particularly a foreign minister, that minister is not going to publish a diary in which the contents of those conversations are disclosed. I think most foreign ministers from either side of politics would have the good sense not to openly mock their diplomatic interlocutors, as Mr Carr on occasions has done here.

I am not quite sure what more I can say to you, Senator Kroger, in relation to that. It is what it is. The very few people who will ever read this dreary book will make of it what they will. I do not think anybody is going to rush to its defence. The only Labor Party politician that I am aware of that has commented on it is Mr Michael Danby, the member for Melbourne Ports, who was much more cutting in his remarks than even I have been.

Senator EDWARDS: Minister or secretary, what was the reaction of the Malaysian government to the comment that the foreign minister agreed to vote for Australia in the UNSC despite having already committed to Finland and Luxembourg?

Mr Varghese : We have not received, to the best of my knowledge, any response from any government in relation to the publication of this book.

Senator Brandis: Again, Senator Edwards, I will take that question on notice. If there has been any reporting from the post in Malaysia recording any formal or informal communication from the Malaysian government, I will release it to you to the extent to which I feel able. That will be a decision, obviously, not of me but of the foreign minister.

Can I correct an answer I just gave you. I said a moment ago that I was only aware of remarks by Mr Danby, the member for Melbourne Ports. It has been drawn to my attention that Mr Byrne, who is, if I may say so, a very respected member of the Labor Party who, during the period when Mr Carr was the foreign minister, was in fact the Chair of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Intelligence and Security, is recorded as having said: 'If you ever wanted an example of narcissism, self-indulgence and immaturity that ran through the Labor Party during its six years in government, Bob Carr is it.'

Senator WONG: Because no-one would ever accuse you of that, would they?

Senator Brandis: So, Senator Edwards, Mr Carr has —

Senator WONG: It sounds like the National Party description of Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: published some diaries. The diaries reveal the sort of person he is. The diaries are, in some respect, in my view, indiscreet. Therefore, for a foreign minister to publish these matters, it is embarrassing and inappropriate. People will make of it what they do. We know what Mr Danby and Mr Anthony Byrne have made of it.

Senator EDWARDS: You have given your answer that you have not received any missives or anything formal from any other countries. I do draw to your attention the comments Mr Carr made in regard to the Canadian government and his comment that Julia Gillard 'didn't like Stephen Harper, finding them'—the Canadians—'bossy and arrogant'. In relation to the Argentinian government, he commented that President Kirchner was flirtatious.

I will put this into context. On page 149 of the book Mr Carr wrote, and I quote from the book: 'I am foreign minister. I trust my judgement, choose my words, soak up knowledge and recycle it. I soar above the mundane and serve my country. The people trust me. All's good. '

Do you agree that revealing information of this nature could damage all of these important bilateral relationships?

Mr Varghese : I share the foreign minister's view that there is an expectation that conversations that are held in private will not be revealed. To the extent that the book goes contrary to that, I think it is unfortunate.

Senator EDWARDS: Wildly unfortunate.

Senator Brandis: Senator Edwards, again we will take on notice—assume this is what you sought in your question—whether there has been any communication from the posts either in Canada or in Argentina reporting any formal or informal representations to the Australian government in relation to those indiscretions. To the extent to which it is appropriate to do so, if there are any, we will release them to you. The quote from which you have read, which I have seen, I saw attempted to be explained by one of Mr Carr's defenders, if not by Mr Carr himself, as being an exercise in self-mockery. If that is what it was, Mr Carr had a lot to work with.

Senator EDWARDS: Indeed. I guess, given this divergence from what all Australians would expect to be appropriate behaviour and protocols to be observed, he did say on page 80: 'I am new to this myself. Just making it up as I go along'—if that is indeed a defence at all, Minister.

Senator Brandis: Mr Carr may be new to being foreign minister, but he was not new to being a senior minister. He was for 10 years or so the Premier of New South Wales. He is, as I know, a person who is extremely well informed and articulate about world history and international relations more generally. I guess what I am saying, Senator Edwards, is that he is not a naif; he should have known better. In the quote you read me before, he talks about choosing his words and trusting his judgement. Again, that, if I may say so, indicates that what Mr Carr, by his own self-characterisation, has done has been done inadvertently, not in the way in which somebody who did not know what they were doing or did not realise the harm they could be doing might do so foolishly. It seems to me that if a person chooses their words carefully and is proud of being able to trust their own judgement then they should be held to that standard. When they commit solipsisms and gross indiscretions of this character, particularly in relation to diplomatic matters, then that is something for which they ought not to be readily forgiven, frankly.

Senator EDWARDS: If I could move along. In the diary there are some references to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He gives a number of examples of the Prime Minister's bad behaviour. In fact, I quote: 'While in Tokyo I had a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Katsuya Okada and had been warned that visiting Australia he had encountered a full-bodied assault from Prime Minister Rudd on the question of whaling, really adamant with emphatic body language to match.' That was on page 54. 'On my way to the meeting our high commissioner had warned me that Kevin had come close to roughing him'—this is the Singapore foreign minister—'up at his last meeting.' Are you aware of the report in Mr Carr's diary that former Japanese Deputy Prime Minister encountered a full-bodied assault from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd?

Mr Varghese : Senator, I am not aware of that report, but can I say that if I were aware of it I would not be revealing it because it would be a discussion in confidence between two governments.

Senator Brandis: Again, Senator Edwards, we will take it on notice, on the same basis as with the other countries, that Mr Carr evidently offended or whether there was any reporting. I am not sure whether, if there was, it would be appropriate to release it. That is a matter ultimately for the foreign minister's judgment.

Senator EDWARDS: You can confirm that the book was the first you knew of this incident when it was released?

Mr Varghese : Of that particular reference to—

Senator EDWARDS: Yes, that incident?

Mr Varghese : Yes.

Senator EDWARDS: When did former Deputy Prime Minister Okada visit Australia?

Mr Varghese : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: Following that, was anybody from the department present at the time when this so-called full-bodied assault occurred?

Mr Varghese : Again, I am more than happy to take questions of detail on notice. Can I reiterate the point I made: to the extent that the answers require going into discussions between Japanese and Australian government representatives, I would be quite constrained.

Senator EDWARDS: There is a contention that this occurred in a formal meeting at which they would not have been on their own. If, indeed, it did happen, somebody would know in the department. If it did not happen, well then, it just points to the fiction that the book is. So if you could take that on notice that would be good.

Mr Varghese : I think I am making a slightly different point. Confirming whether it did or did not happen is, if you like, an equal sin to the indiscretion of reporting it in the first place.

Senator Brandis: Senator Edwards, the secretary has said that we will take this on notice. Whatever information there is in relation to the alleged incident—and it is only an alleged incident—I will ask the foreign minister to turn her mind to and if, in her judgment, there is some or any of it that is suitable for release to you then she will make that decision.

Senator EDWARDS: I am assuming that we have not heard anything formally or informally from the Japanese government in relation to this?

Senator Brandis: We will take that on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: Are you aware of the report in Mr Carr's diary that 'Kevin had come close to roughing him'?

Senator Brandis: Which foreign minister is being offended?

Senator EDWARDS: The Singapore foreign minister. That is the quote: 'Kevin had come close to roughing the Singapore foreign minister up at his last meeting'. Is that incident known?

Mr Varghese : Not to me.

Senator EDWARDS: Rather than have Groundhog Day, if you could just take on notice all the other questions that we asked.

Senator Brandis: We will take it on notice on the same basis, within DFAT, of course—this is a reference to the Prime Minister's conduct now—if it happened and if there is reporting of it. It may be that that is not reporting within DFAT but within the Prime Minister's department. We will have a look and see if there is reporting of this alleged incident, and if it is suitable for release then we will do so. We will take the question on notice on that basis.

Senator EDWARDS: I will go now to page 79 of this book. I am quoting here: 'The assistant general secretary, Stephen Cutts, claimed that he had been savaged by Rudd at CHOGM in October.' Were you aware of this incident prior to the publication of Mr Carr's book?

Mr Varghese : No, I was not.

Senator Brandis: We will take the question on notice on the same terms. That is, if it occurred and if there is any reporting of it and if that reporting is suitable for release to you then we will release it.

Senator EDWARDS: Did Mr Cutts at any point make any representation or express concern at any of Mr  Rudd's behaviour?

Mr Varghese : Again, I would have to take it on notice along similar lines as Senator Brandis has just indicated.

Senator EDWARDS: No worries. Thank you. Mr Carr also refers to Mr Rudd's treatment of Fu Ying, China's former ambassador to Australia. According to Mr Carr, she remembers being humiliated by Kevin Rudd in their encounter in a TV studio in London. 'Rudd deliberately got up and moved from the seat next to her'. Do you agree that Mr Rudd's behaviour could be seen as humiliating?

Mr Varghese : Senator, I do not think it is appropriate for me, as an official, to comment on the behaviour of former prime ministers.

Senator Brandis: Senator Edwards, that is not really a fair question to Mr Varghese. Whether or not a particular bodily gesture was humiliating or not I suppose is a subjective thing. We will take your question on notice on the same basis that we have taken the other questions on notice. That is, this incident—I remember seeing some vision of this—if there was any reporting on it which bears upon the assertion contained in Mr Carr's diary, and if it is suitable for release to you, we will do so.

Senator EDWARDS: Did we ever hear from the Chinese about any of this?

Senator Brandis: We will take that on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: Thank you. If I could just move along: just generally in relation to travel, did Mr Carr ever ask Australian officials to request that his hotel provide steel-cut oats?

Mr Varghese : Let me see if we have someone who might be able to respond to that.

Senator EDWARDS: I suspect that it would be a request that you would remember.

Mr Varghese : I still do not know what steel-cut oats are myself.

Mr Roach : With respect to your question, I am not aware of such a request. I do not believe that we would be able to provide an answer to that query.

Senator EDWARDS: It would not be unusual, given the reference on page 100, and I quote: 'We are sick of steamed fish. As a result my weight is down. Face gaunt. Seven years of weight training melting away. I want turkey.' It would not be unusual, with that kind of mindset, that you would get that kind of request?

Senator Brandis: The official has said that he does not know, but we will take it on notice. If there was such a request and a note was made of it then we will get that for you.

Senator KROGER: If the officials at the table could also ask whether there were any specific requirements the former minister asked for in relation to travel arrangements, including food or whatever?

Mr Roach : Certainly, in regard to that there was a set of preferences that were agreed with Senator Carr and his office about his preferences. I do not have them with me, but they have been the subject of an FOI. They are publicly available. I do recall that they—

Senator KROGER: If you could table those requests that were made? I presume it was shortly after he was made foreign minister. Thanks.

Mr Varghese : It was not a request. It was something that was a standing piece of guidance to overseas posts in supporting the foreign minister. I do believe it did refer to fish.

Senator EDWARDS: And any other breakfast foods?

Senator WONG: Just to clarify where you are going—the book club with Sean and Helen, I am sure, is very interesting—I am just wondering when we will end the book club session and perhaps get to some portfolio questions. I know Senator Edwards said he had about—

Senator KROGER: Ten minutes, 15 minutes.

CHAIR: Senator Edwards, ask your questions.

Senator EDWARDS: Did Mr Carr ever ask Australian officials to lodge a complaint or negative feedback with a hotel or airline?

Mr Roach : No, I am not aware of any feedback. I think I am aware of the reference in the book to a letter but no, the department did not play any role in that letter.

Senator Brandis: We will take that on notice. The official does not seem to be aware of it. We will have a look and see whether there were any. We will take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: We would be interested to hear whether it would be unusual for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to have, as a standard operating procedure, any dietary quirks of a minister. For example, when I was defence minister it appeared very important to Defence—and I understand why, because of official toasts and so forth—that I happened to be a teetotaller. Everything I saw about dinners and so forth had a little note 'the Australian Minister for Defence doesn't drink alcohol', which is hardly surprising. You might have a minister who is a vegetarian and so forth. Would not this be standard operating procedure in these international gatherings?

Senator Brandis: I do not think any of that is unusual at all.

Senator FAULKNER: No, I do not either.

Senator Brandis: As senators and members of parliament, we are often asked about dietary preferences. I think the point is, though, it is apparent from this diary that this particular minister seemed to devote an enormous amount of thought and time and effort to his own personal amenity.

Senator FAULKNER: But—

Senator Brandis: If I may finish my answer, please, without being interrupted.

Senator FAULKNER: I did not ask you a question.

Senator Brandis: Yes, but I am taking the question. You know the way it works.

Senator FAULKNER: If you could answer the question I asked.

Senator Brandis: If I may continue the answer—

Senator FAULKNER: I asked whether the department had a standard operating procedure about these sorts of dietary requirements.

Senator Brandis: I am responding to your question.

Senator WONG: Who is interrupting whom?

Senator Brandis: I am making the point that this particular minister seemed to spend an unusual amount of thought and effort and time considering his own personal amenity. For example, in his diary he does record on one particular day:

I did two hours of Pilates, then to Double Bay for my third meditation lesson; to the office to read cables; to the gym.

I do not know if that was a typical day in the life of Foreign Minister Carr.

Senator FAULKNER: Nor do I.

Senator Brandis: But he saw fit to record it; so I assume it was. The point—if I may infer from what Senator Edwards and Senator Kroger said, where they are going here—is that it is not merely a matter of discretion, it is also a matter of, shall we say, focus. That is, I think, a legitimate matter of public discussion about the performance of any minister.

Senator FAULKNER: Some would say that some of the questions, including whether a minister goes to a gym or not, is not of particularly great interest to Senate estimates. However, my question was not about meditation lessons. I know nothing about meditation lessons. I have never been to a meditation lesson.

Senator Brandis: You have quite a meditative style, if I may say so.

Senator FAULKNER: Of course I do. I am just a very easy-going fellow. But I still have never been to a meditation lesson. Even after engaging with you, I do not feel I need to.

Senator Brandis: I cannot imagine why you would.

Senator FAULKNER: I do not need to. I was asking whether it is standard operating procedure, Mr Varghese, for a department, for an agency, for a minister who does a lot of international travel. I had this experience, as I just mentioned to you, as defence minister and foreign minister. I assume it is pretty normal, is it not? I am just asking. I really am not interested in—

Mr Varghese : What is your question?

Senator FAULKNER: The question is whether it is normal. I will repeat it for you because you answered a question I did not ask.

Senator Brandis: I was just trying to be helpful.

Senator FAULKNER: I was asking Mr Varghese whether it is standard operating procedure—this is for the fourth time now—for the department to have an understanding of the dietary requirements of a minister, whether they be Labor or non-Labor, because some of us are a little eccentric. I mentioned the fact, as you would appreciate, Senator Brandis, you go to many functions and there are official toasts and the like. In my case, I do not drink alcohol. This was on every sheet of paper. Everyone thought the Australian defence minister was a complete weirdo as a result. But is it standard operating procedure, Mr Varghese?

Mr Varghese : It is standard practice for the department to issue guidelines on handling visits by our portfolio ministers. It is very frequently the case that those guidelines would address any relevant dietary issues. For instance, some people have allergies. Clearly that would be something that posts would need to know. It is also the case that invariably host governments will ask, because they are hosting meals, whether there are any dietary restrictions for the visiting minister. So to that extent, it is very much standard practice.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you. I could ask you on notice, given there is such an interest in Senator Carr, but I am not going to ask, what the arrangements are for the current minister for foreign affairs—but I do not think it particularly relevant—or the predecessors to Mr Carr. I do not think that is relevant either. I am going to put your mind at rest, Mr Varghese. I just wanted to understand what the standard procedures were. I thank you for answering my question. I will let Senator Brandis get back to his meditation.

Senator Brandis: I am sorry, Senator Faulkner, these are standard matters. But that is not really the point, as I gather Senator Edwards has been trying to make. If one gathers from these diaries—whether it be the frank admission that Senator Carr meant to suck as much out of the role as possible or the obsession with these matters of personal amenity—we did have a foreign minister that seemed to be thinking about everything else other than conducting the foreign relations for the nation.

Senator FAULKNER: In your view.

Senator Brandis: That is a matter of legitimate public comment.

Senator FAULKNER: In your view.

Senator Brandis: That is what the diary—

Senator FAULKNER: I would think an hour and seven minutes of questions on these sorts of issues is really stretching the role of Senate estimates committees.

Senator Brandis: You may think that.

Senator FAULKNER: I think we are effectively wasting a lot of time on these issues. Fair enough. We are only up to page 100. I do not know how many pages are in Mr Carr's diary, although I did make a comment about a page a couple of hundred pages further on where I had to make a personal explanation about something in that diary. We are going to be another couple of hours if we are only up to page 100 now and we are going to go through every meal that Mr Carr ate. I think it is pretty boring.

Senator Brandis: It may bore you but obviously it is a matter of interest to your colleagues. There you go.

Senator KROGER: We will be able to help Senator Faulkner.

Senator EDWARDS: Actually I can move to page 153, if you like, Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER: It ought to be identified for what it is, which is a deliberate attempt to waste our time.

Senator Brandis: How you can say that, when all Senator Edwards is doing is quoting the man's words.

Senator FAULKNER: I know.

Senator EDWARDS: Chair, if I can have the call.

Senator FAULKNER: After the best part of an hour and 10 minutes about what he is eating.

Senator Brandis: You have just taken seven minutes.

Senator FAULKNER: I think there are other issues in relation to the administration of this portfolio that warrant the attention of the committee. I am making that point.

Senator Brandis: It is a matter for each senator to decide what interests them.

Senator FAULKNER: That is my view. You obviously do not share it. You are much more interested in Mr Carr's dietary restrictions or his meditation lessons than you are in Australia's foreign policy

Senator Brandis: I am neutral here. Since you have raised this apparently in my direction, I am merely making the point that it is for each senator to decide what matters are of interest for him to pursue. If Senator Edwards and Senator Kroger are interested in pursuing that and there is no objection on the basis of relevance or any other formal ground, that is a matter for them. If I may say so, Senator Faulkner, when I was a much younger senator, I remember you in the finance and public administration estimates committee during the Howard government asking many searching and detailed questions about the menu and the provision of hospitality by former Prime Minister John Howard.

Senator FAULKNER: I did not ask many. I asked some about the expenditure of public money, indeed.

Senator Brandis: That is what Senator Edwards and Senator Kroger are doing, the only difference being they are quoting the very words of your former colleague which he chose to publish to display himself to the Australian public.

Senator FAULKNER: Normally at estimates committees one would tie it to the expenditure of public moneys. That has not been done.

Senator Brandis: That is not right. I think all of these relate to the expenditure of public moneys because they relate to the conduct of this minister and his lack of focus on his job.

Senator EDWARDS: If it satisfies Senator Faulkner, I found out I shared an ambition with Minister Carr because he says on page 153 of his book—and this is a shared ambition of mine:

My ambition: to have a concave abdomen defined by deep-cut obliques.

I do not think that is strange. I think that is honourable. That is something that I want to achieve.

Senator FAULKNER: What has this got to do with the estimates committee?

Senator EDWARDS: I move on. Did Mr Carr's office request a ministerial or departmental reply to the letter from Singapore Airlines apologising for the first class inflight entertainment?

Mr Roach : We had a look at our records. There is no information to show that the department played any role in providing any drafting of that letter.

Senator EDWARDS: While we are on travel, how many trips did Mr Carr undertake during the caretaker period?

Mr Roach : I am casting my mind back a little to when caretaker commenced. In terms of his preceding three visits, we canvassed previously in this committee the fact that at the time of the federal election he was in Russia representing the government at the G20. Prior to that he was in Indonesia from 19 to 21 August.

Senator KROGER: Clearly during the caretaker period.

Mr Roach : That would have been within caretaker. The trip preceding that he was in China from 25 July to 3 August.

Senator EDWARDS: Which may have fallen in the caretaker period.

Mr Roach : Which may have. I think it would have been about the cusp.

Senator Brandis: I will get some information about that.

Senator KROGER: While the minister is getting that information, can I ask: what is the normal practice in relation to travel processes and approval when the government goes into caretaker mode? What is the normal practice there? You are clearly not representing the government; you clearly cannot be advancing matters of the nation during a caretaker period. So what is the process?

Mr Roach : I do not have the caretaker conventions in front of me but my very strong recollection is that the continuity of government policy is something that is permitted within caretaker. Obviously there are some boundaries around that. In terms of travel during caretaker period, that is, overseas travel in the prosecution of a national agenda consistent with existing government policy, that is something that would be permitted within caretaker convention bounds.

Senator KROGER: So then the foreign minister—

Senator Brandis: Senator Kroger, can I add to that answer?

Senator KROGER: Yes.

Senator Brandis: It is a bit difficult as well because obviously the former government had a different understanding of the caretaker conventions than any previous government has had. The then Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, who, as first law officer of the Commonwealth, is meant to be the custodian of constitutional conventions, described, you will recall, in a controversy about government advertising, the caretaker conventions as a matter 'merely of political practice'. That was a disgraceful thing to say; it was wrong. It showed a deep disrespect for what had hitherto been the caretaker convention.

The reason I am at pains to make that point is that the government of the day, going into caretaker mode, up to a point has a degree of discretion about how seriously or otherwise, or how rigorously or otherwise, the caretaker conventions are observed. I do not know about Mr Carr. I have never seen anything that he has written or said about his understanding of the caretaker conventions. But it was the view of the former Attorney-General that the caretaker conventions were merely a matter of political practice.

Senator KROGER: On that basis—

Senator Brandis: I am sorry, Senator Kroger; I am advised that the caretaker period began on Tuesday, 6 August.

Senator KROGER: Thank you. He may well have continued the practice before us going into caretaker mode. I understand the Prime Minister would have signed off on the foreign minister's travel.

Mr Roach : Correct.

Senator EDWARDS: As I understand it, the foreign minister has—

Senator WONG: On a point of order, Chair, we have been going for over an hour and a quarter on these issues. What I would request respectfully of the chair—

Senator EDWARDS: No more embarrassment?

Senator WONG: No. On Twitter they are even commenting that you are doing it so laboriously that Senator Brandis looks bored.

Senator EDWARDS: I am sure your staff are very busy on Twitter.

Senator WONG: No, it is a journalist, not my staff. My point is that this is an estimates—

Senator Brandis: I am not sure what the point of that observation was, Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: I was just responding to my friend and South Australian colleague Senator Edwards. I do wonder, in terms of—

Senator Brandis: I am sorry if I look bored because I am actually not bored.

Senator WONG: You do enjoy interrupting everyone else after lecturing about interrupting, don't you, Senator Brandis?

Senator Brandis: No, it is something—

Senator WONG: Some people enjoy the sound of their own voices more than others.

Senator Brandis: I am not bored at all. In fact I am enchanted.

Senator WONG: Chair, there is a capacity for spill-over days if things are not resolved in time. I think the opposition is being very reasonable in regard to Senator Edwards enjoying his 'book club' moment or his 'book club' hour and a bit. But I do wonder if it would be possible for the opposition perhaps to be able to return to the topic which is more generally and squarely a topic of estimates, which is what is in the budget papers and what is in the PBS. He has had the call for some time.

Senator EDWARDS: This relates to government expenses.

Senator WONG: He has had the call for some time. I am just suggesting he has had the call for some time.

CHAIR: It is not totally unreasonable. We do perhaps need to put a time limit on this and move on.

Senator Brandis: Mr Chairman, we began a little after five past nine. The call was with Senator Faulkner and Senator Wong until about quarter past 10, so that is a little under an hour and 10 minutes.

CHAIR: Yes, it is.

Senator Brandis: We have been going now for less than 50 minutes with Senator Edwards and Senator Kroger. They have a right to as much time as opposition senators. As to what is relevant to them, it is a bit like beauty: it is in the eye of the beholder.

CHAIR: I do not disagree with that, Senator Brandis. I did say that time was moving on.

Senator EDWARDS: Chair, I am moving through it.

CHAIR: If we expedite—

Senator WONG: Chair, could you give us an indication of when you intend to give another senator the call?

Senator EDWARDS: You cannot shut me up—

Senator WONG: No, I do not think anybody watching is suggesting that, Senator Edwards. I am wondering if you could give us an indication.

CHAIR: You had an hour and a quarter?

Senator Brandis: About an hour and 10 minutes.

CHAIR: If we continue this for another 15 minutes, shall we say?

Senator WONG: What time did we come back from the break—10.30?

CHAIR: 10.45.

Senator EDWARDS: If it helps, I will finish up and you can come back to me, Chair.

CHAIR: Yes, that might be a solution. But you may go until 11.45.

Senator EDWARDS: I will just finish my line of questioning on this issue of the caretaker period. Mr Roach, there was one trip taken in the caretaker period, from the 19th to the 21st?

Mr Roach : To Indonesia and then the second visit was to Russia for the G20.

Senator EDWARDS: In the context, and at the risk of offending further my colleague from South Australia, I quote from page 325: 'I am in the business of extracting everything from this job before it's wrenched from me.'

Senator KROGER: What a disgrace.

Senator EDWARDS: Could you tell me, in the context of that comment, what was the total cost of each of those trips?

Mr Roach : Could I take that on notice? I may be able to provide you with an answer before the end of today.

Senator EDWARDS: Thank you. Also, who accompanied Mr Carr on those trips?

Senator KROGER: And where he stayed, accommodation, whether he was staying with the post, what the arrangements were.

Senator EDWARDS: If I could move on, this just relates to some media reports. It relates to the former Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, being short-listed as a candidate to be appointed to the UN Special Envoy on Syria. There was a report on 3 May this year from Jonathan Swan in the Sydney Morning Herald. Are you aware of that report?

Mr Varghese : I do recall the report. I recall a subsequent comment from Mr Rudd that he was not in contention.

Senator EDWARDS: Did Mr Rudd ever seek any assistance from Australia's permanent mission to the United Nations since the election?

Mr Varghese : I will take that on notice. As a matter of courtesy to former prime ministers, we of course do extend a measure of assistance when they travel. I would not be at all surprised if, during Mr Rudd's visits to New York since he left office, our mission would have provided the appropriate level of assistance. Beyond that, I would have to take it on notice, if you are asking whether he sought assistance for a candidature, for instance.

Senator EDWARDS: I am asking if he sought assistance since the election, when it occurred and, quite reasonably, what the nature of the request was. Obviously, is it in relation to Mr Rudd seeking to be appointed to the United Nations Special Envoy to Syria?

Mr Varghese : I will take that on notice and double-check the facts. To the best of my knowledge, there was no departmental involvement in this issue. I will take it on notice and get back to you.

Senator Brandis: I can give you some information, Senator Edwards. The department provided assistance to Mr Rudd on three occasions between the last estimates, on 27 February, and 4 June in relation to travel to the United Kingdom, to Russia and to the United States, which included airport facilitation advice and, in the case of the visit to the United States on 20 May, accompanying Mr Rudd to meetings. We will take on notice what advice and what meetings they were.

Senator EDWARDS: That would include any knowledge of any discussions Mr Rudd has had with UN officials?

Senator Brandis: There may be confidentiality issues. I do not know if there are or not. As I say, we will take that on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: Do you have any reason to believe that Mr Rudd is seeking to become the UN Special Envoy on Syria?

Mr Varghese : No, I do not. All I have, Senator, is what you have, which is that initial report and then a subsequent comment from Mr Rudd that there was nothing to it.

Senator EDWARDS: 'Nothing to see here, Your Honour.' If I can stay with former prime ministers, what assistance has the department provided to former prime ministers since the last Senate estimates?

Senator Brandis: I can give you some information from the brief that I have been given. Since the last Senate estimates it has provided assistance for six visits by former Prime Minister Gillard to eight countries. I mentioned the three visits by former Prime Minister Rudd. It has provided assistance on one occasion to former Prime Minister Howard in visiting one country and it has provided assistance on one occasion to former Prime Minister Fraser in visiting two countries.

Senator EDWARDS: Has the department refused any request for assistance since that time?

Mr Varghese : Not to my knowledge. I do not think we would refuse requests if the requests were consistent with the guidelines.

Senator EDWARDS: Has there been any inconsistency with the guidelines?

Mr Varghese : Not that I am aware of, no.

Senator Brandis: We will take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: Are the guidelines public?

Mr Varghese : I would have to check, Senator, whether they are public or not.

Senator WONG: They are DFAT guidelines?

Mr Varghese : No, normally guidelines relating to travel by former prime ministers are approved by the Prime Minister.

Senator FAULKNER: I understand that. You mentioned 'guidelines'. I was not aware of how formal those guidelines were. That would be helpful to understand. There are formal guidelines?

Mr Varghese : We provide advice to posts on how to handle visits by former prime ministers.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. You have spoken about this at estimates previously.

Mr Varghese : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: It might have been in the last round, but I stand to be corrected on that. I was asking how formal that advice is. In other words, is there a set of formal guidelines for the assistance by posts of former prime ministers? Is there a set of formal guidelines?

Mr Varghese : There is a piece of paper which contains advice to posts on how they are to handle and respond to requests for assistance. To the extent that they have the nomenclature of a formal guideline, I suppose that is the case.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you. Could I ask that that piece of paper be tabled at an opportunity? I would not expect you to have that piece of paper in your back pocket, but if that could be tabled at some point, I would appreciate it. If it is not able to be tabled, could you take it on notice and—

Mr Varghese : I will certainly take it on notice.

Senator Brandis: Senator Edwards, I can add to the answer in relation to Mr Rudd, by the way, that in addition to the visits to which I have referred you he was also provided with assistance by the department for a visit to New York between 17 and 20 December last year; to San Francisco between 20 and 22 December last year; to a visit to New York, Boston and Washington from 21 to 25 January last year, which included in Washington helping him to obtain a visa to travel to Kazakhstan; in Paris from 26 to 28 January; in Munich from 31 January to 3 February; again in New York and Boston from 21 to 27 February; and the other three occasions in the United Kingdom, Russia and the United States to which I also referred you.

Senator EDWARDS: Does Mr Rudd continue to seek more assistance than other former prime ministers?

Mr Varghese : I think the level or frequency of requests for assistance obviously varies according to the amount of travel former prime ministers do and the nature of that travel, and Mr Rudd is someone who still travels quite a lot.

Senator EDWARDS: What greater percentage does Mr Rudd seek assistance in relation to these matters than others? Is it 50 per cent? Is it 25 per cent? There must be a number.

Senator Brandis: I can give you the number. The earliest figures I have are for December 2013 but, since 17 December 2013, Mr Rudd has sought assistance 11 times; Ms Gillard has sought assistance seven times; Mr Howard has sought assistance once; Mr Fraser has sought assistance twice; and there is no record of assistance being sought by Mr Hawke, Mr Keating or Mr Whitlam.

Senator WONG: Senator Brandis, assistance there is in the context of the post and facilitation, is it?

Senator Brandis: It is—

Senator WONG: I am just trying to work out what is in that category.

Senator Brandis: I am happy to table this table that I have. Usually it involves facilitation but, for example, in the case of Ms Gillard in the week of 7 April, the description of the assistance is 'accompany to high-level meetings'.

Senator WONG: This is in Israel.

Senator Brandis: In Israel. In the case of Mr Howard's one request for assistance, it is described as 'briefing on Bangladesh'. In the case of Mr Rudd's most recent visit to the United States on 22 May, as I think I have said, it is described as 'accompany to meetings'. In another of Ms Gillard's requests to the UAE, it is described as 'Abu Dhabi: forward letters to potential interlocutors requesting a meeting' and, in Qatar, 'accompany to meetings'. So it is more than just meeting the person at the airport and helping with the bags, as it were. It may be only that but, on other occasions, there is more substance to it, shall we say.

Senator WONG: Yes. I think the former Prime Minister did have high-level meetings in Israel at which DFAT officials did attend; I think that is on the public record already.

Senator KROGER: Minister, is it possible to table that document?

Mr Varghese : We did table it on 2 May.

Senator KROGER: So we have had that tabled already; thank you.

Senator Brandis: If it helps, I will provide another copy.

Senator KROGER: That would be great; thank you, Minister.

Senator EDWARDS: Mr Secretary, the costs associated with—

Senator WONG: Chair?

CHAIR: He is asking his last question—

Senator WONG: You said that last time; you said, 'his last question'. It is past the time you—

CHAIR: I am the chair and I am giving him permission to ask the question.

Senator WONG: And you indicated the time by which—

Senator EDWARDS: I will be quick.

CHAIR: I am not discussing it. He is asking the question.

Senator WONG: You are not discussing it. So we are not discussing the fact that the chair is allowing questioning beyond the time that he told senators and the public that he would move off this and onto something else?

Senator EDWARDS: I will be very quick and I will put them on notice for you. Are the costs of providing assistance to Mr Rudd borne by the mission or charged to the Department of Finance?

Mr Varghese : The costs would be borne by the mission. The overall guidance to posts is that the level of assistance needs to reflect the resources of the post.

Senator EDWARDS: Would you provide the committee with the cost of providing assistance to Mr Rudd since the previous Senate estimates hearings, please?

Mr Varghese : I am very happy to take that on board, but I am not sure that it is an easy task to disaggregate the specific costs for supporting Mr Rudd. You would have to make a calculation about the amount of time someone spent and what portion of salary would be involved.

Senator Brandis: We will take it on notice; but I think it follows, from what the secretary has said, that the best you can expect is an estimate.

Senator EDWARDS: But has there been any communication with Mr Rudd about the cost of providing the services or assistance to Mr Rudd?

Mr Varghese : No. The services are provided as a courtesy to former prime ministers. They are not provided on a user-pays basis or a fee-for-service basis; they are considered to be part of the—

Senator EDWARDS: I understand that. But has anybody in your department written to Mr Rudd about overuse, perhaps, or toning it down or backing off a bit?

Mr Varghese : No, we have not. But, as I have said, the overarching guideline to posts is that the level of assistance has to reflect the resources available at the post.

Senator EDWARDS: Have you ever said or implied to Mr Rudd that he is stretching resources from the requests that he has made?

Mr Varghese : If the posts felt that providing the resources was beyond their capability, they have the flexibility not to provide the service.

Senator Brandis: The statistics, in a sense, speak for themselves. I think that 11 requests of different posts in the five months between 17 December and 20 May is a surprisingly high number.

Senator EDWARDS: Yes; it is taking the proverbial. I will finish up on that—thank you, Chair—but just ask that you come back to me when the time allows.

CHAIR: We will do that. Does Senator Ludwig have questions? No? Senator Wong.

Senator WONG: I will actually defer to Senator Faulkner. But, in the context of a question that has been asked, I just want to refer Mr Varghese to his previous evidence, which was that the department did not separately cost the courtesies, which you have been describing, that are provided to former prime ministers or others. Obviously, you have taken that on notice again, but I thought it would be fair for you to be aware of the evidence that you have previously given on that.

Senator Brandis: Senator Wong, as I said to Senator Edwards, for the very reason Mr Varghese explained, the best that Senator Edwards could expect in answer to his question would be an estimate.

CHAIR: I have been provided with a document, which has been tabled, on the countries visited and the assistance provided to various previous prime ministers. Do we accept this document? Could I have a motion?

Senator WONG: Is this a departmental document? This is just the question on notice answer, is it?

Senator Brandis: This comes from my brief.

Senator WONG: I realise that it comes from your brief. I am asking if it is a departmental document.

Mr Varghese : It is the same information that was tabled on 2 May.

Senator WONG: But it was prepared in the minister's office and not the department; is that right?

Mr Varghese : I think we would have prepared it.

Mr Roach : If it is a question on notice, it would have been—

Senator WONG: No, it is not a question on notice.

Mr Roach : prepared by the department.

Senator WONG: I am sorry; can I finish? It is not a question on notice, as we have just been told. Senator Brandis has just said that it is in his brief.

Senator Brandis: It is in my brief.

Senator WONG: So all I am asking is: is this a departmental document or was this prepared in Ms Bishop's office?

Mr Varghese : Perhaps I can clarify. The document was tabled in response to a question on notice on 2 May. The Attorney-General has just provided another copy of the same document in response to—

Senator Brandis: I think, Mr Varghese, that is partly correct, but there is another document as well that takes the matter up to 20 May.

Senator WONG: And it says 'last saved: 22/5/2014'. I just want to be clear: is it saved by someone in the minister's office or is this a departmental document?

Mr Varghese : I will take it on notice; but I think it is a departmental document, isn't it, Jeff?

Mr Roach : Without having seen—

Senator WONG: If we have just tabled it, perhaps DFAT could have a look.

Mr Roach : Just to confirm, that is a departmental document.

Senator FAULKNER: Let me just ask one question on this. You are tabling the guidelines, which I appreciate, Mr Varghese; or you are providing them on notice, if you are unable to do that, as I understand that may not be possible in the time available. They go to departmental guidelines for former prime ministerial travel, as you have indicated. These are guidelines to posts, if I understand you correctly; but you can just confirm that?

Mr Varghese : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: There is an expectation on your part that obviously all posts meet those guidelines; is that correct?

Mr Varghese : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Can you assure us that posts have met and do meet those guidelines?

Mr Varghese : I am not aware of any instance where it has been brought to my attention that they have not met the guidelines.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that. One would assume, if that were the case and there were some breach, you would know about it. Mr Varghese, moving to another issue—and I do apologise for not asking you another hour and a half's worth of questions on Mr Carr's diaries, but there it is.

Senator Brandis: Have you read those diaries, by the way, Senator Carr?

Senator FAULKNER: My name is Faulkner.

Senator Brandis: Senator Faulkner. I am sorry; it is so easy to confuse the two of you.

Senator FAULKNER: Really? Very few people would say that, apart from yourself.

Senator Brandis: Have you read the diaries, Senator Faulkner?

Senator FAULKNER: The answer to your question is yes.

Senator Brandis: Would you care to share your critique on them?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I would care to share my critique but privately, because I do not think it is an appropriate matter to waste the time of the estimates committee with. So let us have a discussion during the lunch break; I am more than happy to talk to you about my views about those diaries. Perhaps I can go back to what I would describe as 'core business of the estimates committee', Chair. Mr Varghese, I would refer you to the two statements that you tabled—and I appreciate that—earlier on. Just so that I am clear—this is a very minor matter—the first statement is entitled 'message from the secretary—staff cuts flowing from the 2014-15 budget'. It has a cross-head above that, which just says 'attachment'. I was wondering what that meant. I was hoping that I was not missing something. I was wondering to which particular document was it an attachment to, or was it just an attachment to an email and cable that went to staff? Just explain that.

Mr Varghese : The attachment refers to it being attached to my Senate estimates brief; it is not—

Senator FAULKNER: I see. Could you table all the other attachments to your Senate estimates brief?

Mr Varghese : I would have to politely decline.

Senator FAULKNER: I just wondered whether there was another substantive document. Would you care to attach the brief to which this is the attachment?

Mr Varghese : I think I would rather keep my briefing notes to myself, really.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but I would rather you tabled them. So there you are; there is a difference between you and me. I knew we would—

Senator Brandis: I think these notes are personal to Mr Varghese. He will respond to your questions and provide such documents as are appropriate to be provided.

Senator FAULKNER: So my question then, Minister, was: would the secretary please table the brief to which there was an attachment, which has been tabled? Has that been politely or impolitely declined?

Senator Brandis: Well it has not been the practice to table these estimates briefs.

Senator FAULKNER: No, but we normally—

Senator Brandis: But information, like the table I just provided to the committee a few moments ago, can be provided in the room if it is appropriate.

Senator FAULKNER: Sure.

Senator Brandis: But as a general principle we do not, as you know, table estimates briefs.

Senator FAULKNER: No, and I think that is a fair point to make. You do not also normally table attachments to estimates briefs. I appreciate that this was done. This is an attachment that had received some media coverage and, perhaps reluctantly but nevertheless, Mr Varghese did table it. But I am asking this in the circumstances of an attachment to a brief being tabled.

Senator Brandis: The answer is no, we will not. The attachment is itself a self-sufficient document; it does not require any external interpretation. If it were part of a document and could not be tabled without other material to be comprehensible then I could understand your point, but what has been tabled is a self-contained document, albeit forming an attachment.

Senator FAULKNER: Mr Varghese, I want to ask about the message you sent out the day after the budget, so the first of the two documents. The final paragraph on the first page says:

I—

and I interpolate that that is you—

expect that by 30 June 2014 around 200 staff will have left through voluntary redundancies and more are in train for departure next financial year.

I am interested in understanding whether, given the earlier evidence that had been provided about progress in relation to voluntary redundancies, is it still your expectation that by 30 June 2014—so now literally only a matter of a couple of weeks—that figure of 200 will be met?

Mr Varghese : I think I gave you an estimate earlier today of where we expected to end up at the end of the financial year.

Senator FAULKNER: If you did give it to me, was that the 189 non-SES—

Mr Varghese : That is correct. So, to the extent that there is a variation, I will say two things: one is that the 200 was what I thought would be the number when I issued that message and the other thing is that, in addition to the 189, I think I also mentioned—

Senator FAULKNER: There are 15 SES.

Mr Varghese : Yes, so it is about the same.

Senator FAULKNER: So, in fact, the estimate has proved to be accurate. I was not clear whether that figure of 189 non-SES and 15 SES was an estimate, if you like, for staff as of the end of the financial year, but now I am clear, so I appreciate that. In paragraph 5 of the follow-on message you sent out you say:

The overall reduction of positions at posts from 1 July 2013 is 65; around a quarter of the 797 positions overseas will have a development focus.

The first question is just a simple one: did you mean 1 July 2013 or did you mean 1 July 2014? That did not quite compute for me.

Mr Varghese : I think your eagle eye has indeed picked up a mistake.

Senator FAULKNER: I don't believe you would have made a mistake, Mr Varghese—don't tell me!

Mr Varghese : I might get Ms Rawson to respond to that, because it is a document that looks back to 1 July and I think she may be able to give you a more helpful response than I can at this stage.

Senator FAULKNER: You mean that Ms Rawson will be able to tell me more about your statement that you can?

Mr Varghese : I would not put it quite that way.

Senator FAULKNER: I accept that you wouldn't. I am just interested in the date, whether it is accurate, and if it is accurate why it is 2013.

Ms Rawson : The starting point for the staffing figure that the secretary talked about earlier—if you like, the full-time equivalent staff base of the department that he quoted earlier on—was 1 July 2013.

Senator FAULKNER: Sorry, can you say that again.

Ms Rawson : The starting point was 1 July 2013. That is the case, as for all other staff, in regard to those staff at posts. It is an overall reduction because in a few instances there will actually be increases at posts and in others reductions. The starting point that that figure is based on is the 1 July 2013 figure. And the 65 reductions we are looking at taking place, some of them have already taken place this financial year and the remainder will take place next financial year.

Senator FAULKNER: It is a starting point, so are you able to say what the overall reduction of positions at posts from 1 July 2014 is? If it is 2013 it is 65, but what is it from 2014?

Ms Rawson : I would have to take that question on notice. The reductions at posts in some cases, as I said, may already have occurred. In other cases they are the subject of discussions with posts, taking into account a range of factors including the posts' operations, the particular point at which staff are at postings, so it will take place over a period of time. We can take on notice whether we can be more specific about how much more of that will be done from 1 July 2014.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate you taking any additional information on notice, but what I am interested in understanding now is how many of those 65 effectively have become aware of the change in circumstances post the budget, post the secretary's message to staff relating to staff cuts flowing from the 2014-15 budget.

Ms Rawson : As I said, there have been discussions with the heads of mission of each of the posts affected, and those heads of missions have had discussions with relevant staff. In some cases, for example, it will not actually affect staff at posts because postings which would have been advertised as becoming vacant in, say, the next financial year will be positions which have been reduced as a result of this review of overall positions and therefore will not be advertised. So it may mean that, for example, a member of staff will complete a posting in the first half of next financial year and that position will not have been advertised for refilling. It is a real mixture of circumstances, so it is hard to be very definitive about exactly will happen in each and every case.

Senator FAULKNER: I have listened to that very carefully. I would like to understand if there are some of that 65 who will have effectively changed their plans between the time of the secretary's message following the budget—the day after the budget—and 1 July this year. That certainly has been reported. It does not mean it is correct, but it has certainly been reported that a number of people were unexpectedly impacted. In fact, I recall reading it reported in at least one place that the entire 65 have had to change travel plans in very short order. Can confirm, either Mr Varghese or Ms Rawson, that at least some DFAT staff were expecting to go to postings and, in literally a matter of weeks, have had to change travel plans? Is that accurate or inaccurate?

Ms Rawson : Certainly that is not the case. You said there had been reports that applied to all 65 and that is certainly not the case. Again, I would have to take it on notice; I am not aware of all the details. I think there would be a very small number of staff who had expected to go on posting and who will now not proceed with the postings, but I do not think there has been a final decision taken with regard to all of those that might be affected. But, in the end, it will be a very small number.

Senator FAULKNER: So we cannot quantify it beyond a small number?

Ms Rawson : I am not able at this point to say anything beyond a very small number, but we could take that on notice.

Mr Varghese : Is your question in relation to the window between now and 1 July—

Senator FAULKNER: In this instance it is—or not so much now and 1 July as the budget and 1 July. Effectively, the statement in your message was about the overall reduction in positions from 1 July 2013, being 65—hence my question about the year. Now I am asking about the number. So it is effectively between the budget, if you like, and 1 July, not now and 1 July.

Mr Varghese : Let's take that on notice. I think the number would be in the very low single digits, but maybe Mr Fisher has more detail.

Mr Fisher : I can say that we are aware of one case. We are working through this. This is a staffing process and you consult with the posts, of course, and there is a process of working through the numbers and the actual positions. We are aware of only one case in this instance at the moment. There may be others, but we are aware of only one case.

Senator FAULKNER: Just so I am clear, those 65 positions have clearly been identified, so you know which posts, I assume.

Mr Varghese : We do.

Senator FAULKNER: Is a list available to be tabled or provided about at which posts there is that immediate impact?

Mr Fisher : No, we do not have that list for you.

Senator FAULKNER: But it has been identified, so that could be provided easily.

Mr Varghese : We will take that on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that, but I would be keen to know whether you can inform the committee at this stage as to what proportion of that 65 are former AusAID staff?

Mr Varghese : Most of the positions we are withdrawing are former AusAID staff. In fact, I would say virtually all of the positions—

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, that is why I am—I am assuming that, but I just wanted to get confirmation of that. In this case, would you say that all of the 65 are former AusAID staff? I appreciate that you have clearly said the vast majority, close to all of them anyway. If you know, I will just give you the opportunity to be more definitive. You may not be able to.

Mr Varghese : Some of the numbers will also take into account unique circumstances such as our term on the Security Council, where we had expanded our staffing in our UN mission by a reasonable number of staff. I think around 10. At the end of our Security Council term those positions would obviously no longer be there in New York, so they would be calculated in the 65. Beyond those sorts of circumstances, we are looking essentially at development positions overseas.

Senator FAULKNER: Obviously, a very high proportion.

Mr Varghese : I am happy to give you a breakdown.

Senator WONG: Can I follow up on that point? This is the 65 from 1 July 2013—

Mr Varghese : That is the beginning of the snapshot.

Senator WONG: I understand that—for the 2014-15 year. Is that right?

Mr Varghese : The 65 represents the difference between the number we had on 1 July 2013 and the number we have to get to by the end of the 2014-15 financial year in order to meet our 500 reduction.

Senator WONG: You have taken on notice where they are from because presumably you have had to factor that in for the purposes of your 2014-15 year? And those positions have been identified?

Mr Varghese : Yes, we have.

Senator FAULKNER: And the 65 is a subset effectively of the 200—is that right?

Mr Varghese : The 200 are the VR issues. Is that the 200 that we are talking about?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes.

Mr Varghese : No.

Senator FAULKNER: Is there any relationship—

Mr Varghese : No

Senator FAULKNER: well that is wrong because they are not—between the 65 and the 200?

Mr Varghese : There is no structural relationship between the 65 and the 200. Whether any of the 65 people who would be affected—

Senator FAULKNER: Are going to leave the department—

Mr Varghese : might also have put their hands up for a package, and whether we have agreed to give them a package, is something I would have to check.

Senator FAULKNER: Some might be a subset of the 200.

Mr Varghese : Yes, but here is no structural link between the two.

Senator FAULKNER: I accept that we should compare apples to apples not apples to oranges. In answer to some earlier questions from Senator Fawcett, you talked about some of the impacts, which I am interested in, of the overall staff reductions of 500. Well I interpreted them as being some of the impacts. For example, you talked about, in your words, a 'different footprint' in Africa. Are you able to, in the first instance, provide the committee very quickly with a broadbrush picture of what this reduction of staff, which I assume, given the size of the your agency, would be described as a significant reduction—I think you would acknowledge that, wouldn't you, Mr Varghese? Five hundred—

Mr Varghese : Twelve per cent is a significant number.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes. Do you think it is a fair thing to say that is a significant reduction in staffing levels?

Mr Varghese : As a manager, 12 per cent is a significant reduction to manage.

Senator FAULKNER: Can I ask you, Minister: we have heard about a reduced footprint in Africa, about the only increase being two persons in Beijing and one in Seoul, and about a reduction in staff by 500; how does that match with Ms Bishop's much-repeated, and perhaps it is not unfair to say, at times much-vaunted, statement, that 'over time, I have a plan to expand our diplomatic footprint overseas and that will in some instances require new money'—when actually what we have heard about is a very significant reduction, or diminution, in our footprint?

Senator Brandis: Well, Senator Faulkner, first of all I do not accept the implied assertion in your question that there is any inconsistency between Ms Bishop's statement, from which you have quoted, and the way in which the department is being administered; nor do I accept your explicit assertion that there has been a reduction in Australia's footprint.

Let me make a couple of observations. First of all, in the remarks from which you have quoted, Ms Bishop said 'over time'. She is not, plainly, speaking about a single year; she is talking about in the long term, not a single year's measures. Secondly, as you yourself acknowledge in your question and as the secretary has been at pains to emphasise in many of his answers, what this does reflect is a greater focus on the regions. So we have economies, particularly in Africa, and we have an expansion, albeit slight in this year, in the region. The government makes no apology at all for focusing our diplomacy on our region. And if that requires the reallocation of the concentration of staff from other regions, then so be it. Thirdly, you refer to 500 staff but, of course, as you heard from Mr Varghese much earlier in the day, that is almost entirely the result of economies achieved by the integration of ODA into DFAT. That was a savings measure. It did create economies. Mr Varghese—if you were listening Senator Faulkner—was at pains to emphasise that, particularly at the missions themselves, economies were able to be achieved. That is not a diminution of Australia's diplomatic footprint anywhere; it is a more efficient structure and, within that more efficient structure, a more efficient allocation of resources, so we can concentrate on what our true priorities are.

Lastly, Senator Faulkner, I am at pains to make the observation that Mr Varghese, in answer to an earlier question, did say that the last budget in which there was such a reduction, or so many savings, in effect, was in 1996. The 2014 budget and the 1996 budget have this in common: they were the first budgets of coalition governments which came into office after previous Labor governments had very significantly damaged the public finances of this country. In the case of the late government, of which you were a member, might I remind you that Australia's public debt rose from zero per cent of GDP to 26 per cent of GDP in less than six years—the highest rate of growth of any OECD country. That was your work, Senator Faulkner, or the work of the government of which you are a member. It was necessary for the new government to repair the public finances of the country which had been so damaged by your government and, as a result, savings were required across government. In a perfect world, we would not be heading for $667 billion of public debt; we would not have had the six biggest budget deficits in a row—but we did. And that is not the fault of this government. But we have been given the job to repair it.

Senator FAULKNER: I am very happy to ask a final question before the lunch break. In the circumstances where we have been informed today that there are 500 staff being removed from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade over the next year, we have received evidence from officials that Australia's diplomatic footprint is being reduced—

Senator Brandis: That is not what they said.

Senator WONG: Are you interrupting him again?

Senator Brandis: I am interrupting to correct a statement of the evidence.

Senator WONG: You made a number of statements which were factually incorrect, but we allowed you to finish.

Senator FAULKNER: Chair, I am more than happy to depend on the Hansardrecord where it was indicated that, in one or two cases, what were described as very modest increases—Beijing being two people in the post, and Seoul being just one person in the post—are the only exception that can be identified in what is a very significant reduction in Australia's diplomatic footprint. I fail to understand how the many statements that foreign minister Bishop has made in relation to her plan, or the government's plan, to expand Australia's—

Senator Brandis: Is there a question anywhere?

Senator FAULKNER: I fail to understand how—

CHAIR: We assumed it would be something very quick, so we might break and we will come back after lunch.

Senator FAULKNER: The minister can comment on that after lunch.

Senator WONG: So Senator Brandis can talk as much as he likes and Senator Faulkner is cut off by the Chair. This is the transparency of the Abbott government.

Senator FAULKNER: I did not even get to complete my sentence, but I am more than happy to address it after lunch.

Senator Brandis: Mr Chairman, I understand the secretary wanted to provide some brief information about an earlier matter before we adjourn for lunch. Would that be allowed?

Senator WONG: We just had a senator cut off by the Chair because we have to go to the lunch break.

Senator Brandis: I think that, if it is important to the secretary, we should be—

CHAIR: We are suspended for lunch.

Proceedings suspended from 12:32 to 13:32

ACTING CHAIR ( Senator Stephens ): We will resume the hearing into the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee investigation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. We are still at the portfolio and budget overview. Senator Faulkner, just before lunch you had the call. Are you continuing?

Senator Brandis: Madam Acting Chairman, the secretary would like to put on the record a fuller explanation of an answer that he gave about the website, which apparently has attracted some attention.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Varghese.

Mr Varghese : In light of some of the media coverage of our hearings this morning, I just wanted to say in relation to the questions that Senator Ludwig asked me about the websites of our three portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries—I just wanted to make it clear that the work on that website is not at the request of any of our portfolio ministers or parliamentary secretaries. This is work done by the department in order to support the overall work of the portfolio, and we will obviously return to the committee with the details that we offered to. I just wanted to make it very clear that it is a departmental activity not undertaken in response to any particular requests from either of our ministers or our parliamentary secretary.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Varghese, I wanted to get your understanding of the involvement that DFAT has in discussions around refugee resettlement programs. Obviously while the lead agency is Immigration and Border Protection I assume when we are talking to foreign governments there is obviously a DFAT role. Could you explain what that role is?

Mr Varghese : We have a very able ambassador for people smuggling, Mr Chittick, who I am sure will also be able to answer questions on this issue. Any resettlement arrangements are obviously government-to-government arrangements and usually would flow from an agreement of some sort between the two governments. Our role as a department and the role that our ambassador for people smuggling has is to be closely involved in those discussions with other countries and to be closely involved in negotiating any arrangements that may be a result of those discussions.

In addition, of course, our people smuggling ambassador works very closely with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, which has a co-lead, if you like, on refugee resettlement questions and also, as you would expect, works very closely with the joint action taskforce that the government has set up.

Senator DASTYARI: Is it fair to say—and this is a very simplistic overview and I am sure it is much more complex than this—that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection; some of us are old fashioned and still call it the Department of Immigration—that their role is more in the actual nuts and bolts of whatever kind of negotiation and deal from an Immigration prospective, and that your role and the department's role is in facilitating and participating in country-to-country negotiations?

Mr Chittick : The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has both a policy and an implementation role in regard to this. As the secretary said, DFAT's primary role in this is to work on the intergovernmental engagement aspects of it. We do not have the primary role or even the secondary role in the implementation of these agreements from the Canberra end, although our high commissions and embassies overseas play an important role in the intergovernmental engagement to facilitate the implementation of those arrangements.

Senator DASTYARI: It is a little bit more than that, in a sense, because in the past you have really played two roles. There has been the talking to foreign governments, which is obviously the core function of DFAT; if we are talking to foreign governments, the Department of Foreign Affairs will play a role. Also, you have played a role in the resourcing element of some of these agreements, most notably PNG, which we have spoken about here many times before. Historically you have played two roles, have you not?

Mr Varghese : When you say a resourcing element, what do you have in mind?

Senator DASTYARI: When I am talking about resourcing, these kinds of agreements reached by government to government have cost implications. In the past a government decision—our government decisions, not DFAT decisions—were that some of those costs would be found from existing aid portfolio budgets, which obviously now falls under DFAT.

Mr Varghese : Any agreement would have a number of different components to it, and those components would come with different cost structures. The source of funding for them would depend on the nature of the activity. The Immigration portfolio would obviously fund quite a bit of it. We would not see the aid arrangements as an integral part of the agreement. These agreements are obviously negotiated in the context of the bilateral relationship and that bilateral relationship may or may not, depending on the country, have a developmental cooperation component.

Senator DASTYARI: The components are pretty fair.

Mr Varghese : They sit side by side rather than all under the one roof.

Senator DASTYARI: Let us not beat around the bush. There is no denying that as part of the broader agreement a component of it was a decision of the previous government to provide additional aid/resourcing to Papua New Guinea. You can see that when you look at the increase. I think the Prime Minister at the time was quite open about that. We are not talking about smoke and mirror secrets here. This was a pretty transparent thing that occurred at the time. Is that a fair assessment?

Mr Chittick : There are two agreements that relate to the operation of offshore processing centres in Papua New Guinea. One is the RRA, and what sits alongside that is the joint understanding on aid issues.

Senator DASTYARI: Obviously, there has been a fair bit of speculation. The Foreign Minister and the Immigration Minister have been pretty open about this. There has been a fair bit of speculation around a possible refugee resettlement agreement with Cambodia. I am sure you are aware of it and have been working quite hard on it. That is an ongoing discussion. Is that a fair way of putting it?

Mr Chittick : I think ministers from both governments have recognised and acknowledged the fact that there are ongoing discussions about that. Ministers from both countries have outlined the key objectives of the deal, but discussions are ongoing. Mr Morrison has indicated that and that those discussions will need to continue until a point where we can identify if and when we can conclude a suitable agreement.

Senator DASTYARI: How does it work? How did this come about? Again, it is not a secret that the discussions are happening; I think it has been widely reported. Did the Australian government go out and seek these things or did the Cambodian government approach us? How did this conversation begin? I am not asking for the content of the conversation. I am asking about the process.

Mr Chittick : The Australian government has been very clear that people who arrive by boat without a visa and are processed in offshore processing centres will not be settled in Australia. In one of the agreements that we have with our partners in the Pacific there is a specific reference that Australia will take a role in settling those people, and that is in the Nauru MOU. In the course of ministerial engagement over the last couple of months these are issues that have been raised with Cambodian senior ministers.

Senator DASTYARI: So, we raised it with them?

Mr Chittick : That has been the content of discussions between ministers. The response has been a very encouraging one. Ministers have now met on a number of occasions.

Senator DASTYARI: On how many occasions have the ministers met? I suppose you are going to tell me that is a question for the Department of Immigration, which is fair enough, but if you can take on notice how many times they have met or would you know the answer to that?

Mr Chittick : I can take that on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: I assume that Minister Bishop has also been involved in these discussions?

Mr Chittick : Minister Bishop had a discussion with the foreign minister of Cambodia earlier this year in which she had a broad-ranging discussion about counter-people smuggling issues, including cooperation in the context of the Bali process.

Senator DASTYARI: For someone who has not been involved in these discussions before, can you explain? The first point you made was that it has been pretty obvious for a while that we are looking for partners in this program. I think that is the point that you making. As a result of that, did the Cambodian government come to us or did we go to them with this proposal?

Mr Chittick : This is a proposal from the Australian government, and one on which the Cambodian government has looked very positively. In the course of ongoing discussions we are working our way towards, we hope, a conclusion to a mutually acceptable deal.

Mr Varghese : This is not an issue that we come to cold with Cambodia. There is a context here and that is the Bali process, which is essentially a regional approach to questions of refugee resettlement. It is in that context that we would have initiated a discussion with Cambodia.

Senator DASTYARI: You talked about how a component previously of these kinds of arrangements—and I think we used the word 'component'—was an aid allocation. These are my words, not your words, so let us not have a debate about whether my words are technically correct. They are my words and not yours, so I will be clear on that for the record.

If the government came to you and said that they wanted, from existing aid money, to do a similar component as part of a broader agreement, that is a matter for government, is it not? If it is a government decision, it is a government decision?

Mr Varghese : The allocation of the aid program is a government decision.

Senator DASTYARI: Where that is allocated is a government decision?

Mr Varghese : Absolutely.

Senator DASTYARI: So, if the government came to you and said, 'We want to find several hundred million dollars and spend the aid money as part of a cooperative agreement'—and again I am not implying that the money would be improperly used; I am saying as part of a cooperative agreement with Cambodia—that is really a matter for them, and you would fulfil that?

Mr Varghese : The decision maker in relation to how to allocate the aid budget is obviously the government and we are the implementer. That is the nature of the relationship.

Senator DASTYARI: We will have a much bigger debate later about aid, and I do not want to canvass it all here, but we have an impressive aid budget of $5 billion or around that?

Mr Varghese : That is right.

Senator DASTYARI: There is a longer debate about aid, how we spend it and what percentage of GNI. There is plenty of opportunity to have that debate. It is fair to say—and I think that even the minister would agree with this—that resources are reasonably scarce at the moment. The government has made a decision to tackle what they feel are budget issues—and I do not want to get into an economics debate—and as a result you have been allocated a budget of $5 billion to spend within that area, correct?

Senator Brandis: I think it is right to say that when the government was elected it was left with scarce resources because of the unprecedented level of debt that we inherited from the previous government.

Senator DASTYARI: I was trying not to make it a political point, but thank you, Senator Brandis.

Senator Brandis: This is a debate about the allocation of money and the allocation of money is essentially a function of two things. Firstly, how much money there is available to be allocated and, secondly, what the government's priorities are across the whole range of possible calls upon that money. The first of those variables is a central issue in this debate. The point I was making is that the government, when it came to make these decisions, found itself in a position where the country was in an unprecedented great level of public debt, having escalated from zero per cent of gross domestic product to 26 per cent of gross domestic product in less than six years. The scarcity of resources of which you speak did not just happen. It happened for a reason and that reason was none of this government's doing.

Senator DASTYARI: I was just giving a factual statement that that is the pool of money that we are talking about.

Mr Varghese : We have a $5 billion program.

CHAIR: Senator Dastyari, we have covered a lot of general things. We need to get on.

Senator DASTYARI: I have a few more. You guys went an hour and a half talking about a book, so I think 20 minutes on this would be fine.

CHAIR: I am just telling you that in 10 minutes we are going to move on.

Senator DASTYARI: What are cross-regional programs in the aid budget?

CHAIR: We have questions on aid later.

Senator DASTYARI: I know. This is general.

CHAIR: There are general aid questions, too.

Mr McDonald : I can probably help you with that. Cross-regional programs are those that cover, by definition, initiatives that go across the program. For example, gender could be one, water and sanitation, scholarships—those sorts of programs that cut right across the aid program.

Senator DASTYARI: That has increased from $300 million to $686 million. That is the largest it has ever been. It has never been above $400 million; is that correct? There was an allocation of $417 million three years ago, but that was never spent. It fell under $380 million in the end. Is that correct?

Mr McDonald : I cannot comment on what the maximum has been before. I would need to check that and I am happy to do that on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: Why the sudden increase in something called cross-regional programs, which has consistently been around the $300 million mark and has suddenly going up to $686 million?

Mr McDonald : As Mr Varghese said earlier, the allocation of the budget is a decision of government, but within that cross-regional, for example, there are replenishments that are coming up in this financial year. A good example is the GAVI replenishment. We do not indicate that ahead of that replenishment. That is one example of why that would be high.

Senator DASTYARI: If you could take on notice: is that the largest cross-regional programs have ever been?

Senator Brandis: We will take that on notice. What the official said was right. It is a decision for government rather than for officials. I do not know the answer to your question, but I will take it on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: The other question that you can take on notice—and I know you are not going to be able to answer this now, but I would love it if you can—out of the $686 million, how much is currently committed? Mr Wood, are you able to answer that?

Mr Wood : We will take that on notice. As Mr McDonald said, a lot of that relates to scholarships, but we will split scholarships out and we will go through some of those other components.

Senator DASTYARI: The scholarships in that were always at $300 million. I do not understand how it has gone from $300 million to $700 million when we are trying to find money at the same time for a deal with Cambodia. Maybe I am being a conspiracy theorist here, but if you are saying it is a matter for government what they do with that money, all of a sudden there is $380 million more sitting in that program called cross-regional programs where we cannot at this point even explain how much of that has been spent.

Mr McDonald : We can explain how much has been spent, and we will answer your question on notice, which is what Mr Wood said. I also indicated some of the components that are in that cross-regional program, for example, the scholarships and the gender activities.

Senator DASTYARI: They have always been there.

Senator KROGER: Can I just take a point of order, with your indulgence?

CHAIR: Yes, of course.

Senator KROGER: I am just going through the schedule for the day. We have a program that the committee itself has gone through and determined to help the witnesses, so you are actually aware of when the appropriate witnesses need to come here. The committee has actually gone through that. Unless there has been a change to the order, Chair, we should continue on the basis of the agreed agenda for the day, because all aid related issues come up and we have a significant chunk of time to allocate to them.

Senator DASTYARI: I do not see this as an aid related issue.

CHAIR: We do, so you can finish this questioning and then we will go back to the program.

Senator KROGER: It is an aid related issue. If you had been on this committee for years you would know you are asking an aid related issue.

Senator DASTYARI: As to the $377 million increase in the cross-regional program, if the government were to come to you and say they wanted to reallocate that funding towards programs to do with Cambodia, that would be a matter for government and not a matter for you; is that correct?

Mr Varghese : Absolutely.

Senator DASTYARI: So, they could come and do that to you tomorrow?

Mr Varghese : The allocation and the reallocation are matters for government.

Senator DASTYARI: So, there is $370 million sitting there for Cambodia?

Mr Varghese : That is a long bow.

Senator Brandis: That is not what he said. You asked him a hypothetical question about a broad principle of who the decision maker is. He gave you an answer. The next question or the assumption that underlay the next question does not follow from that answer.

Senator DASTYARI: Where is the Cambodia money? The head of the Department of Immigration says that the money has not been allocated in their budget for it. It is sitting here in the aid budget. You have $370 million sitting here for Cambodia. Tell me that is not where it is.

Senator Brandis: We will take that question on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: So, you will not rule it out?

Senator Brandis: I said I would take it on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: So, you will not rule out that is the money that is sitting there for—

Senator Brandis: I said I would take the question on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. I think we will move into the rest of the agenda now, outcome 1.1.

Senator FAULKNER: I have a cross-portfolio issue that I wanted to raise.

CHAIR: I did say that we would move on.

Senator FAULKNER: Surely you would only move on after we have finished.

CHAIR: If you have—

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I have.

CHAIR: All right. Senator Faulkner.

Senator FAULKNER: There is one issue and I think the rest of them can fit in. It flows on from the broader staffing issues that we were addressing this morning. I wanted to ask you about the issue of a staff survey, again something that I had seen reported. I believe staff satisfaction surveys are done regularly within DFAT. Is that correct?

Mr Varghese : We tend to do a full staff survey every two years, and since integration we have made a decision to do a series of so called pulse surveys in order to track attitudes and responses within the department. That is done in between the two-year major surveys. We did one back in February/March and we will do another one probably around July. We have about four of these planned as a diagnostic to help us understand how we are tracking vis-à-vis staff opinion and staff attitudes.

Senator FAULKNER: So, you have done a pulse survey which is, if you like, a new initiative?

Mr Varghese : Yes. It is not the full bottle two-yearly survey.

Senator FAULKNER: You did one of those most recently in February/March?

Mr Varghese : That is right.

Senator FAULKNER: Is that the first pulse survey that has been done?

Mr Varghese : It is the first pulse survey that I am aware of. I cannot go back in history.

Senator FAULKNER: It is a new initiative?

Mr Varghese : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: When was the last major survey or the biennial survey done?

Mr Varghese : 2012.

Senator FAULKNER: What month?

Mr Fisher : I think it was November. It was the latter half of 2012.

Senator FAULKNER: The pulse survey, as you say, has been initiated as a result of the amalgamation with the department and AusAID, effectively. Is that the reason for it?

Mr Varghese : That is right.

Senator FAULKNER: I gather from what I read in an online news article—which of course I did not read online; it was printed out for me—that the results of the pulse survey were disseminated to staff with a message from you, Mr Varghese; is that correct?

Mr Varghese : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Would this be a message that you would be able to share with us like the other two messages that you shared with us this morning? Is there a problem with you tabling that? Again, it might save a bit of time.

Mr Varghese : Can I take that on notice? My disposition would be to agree to it. I would need to refresh my memory of exactly what I said in it.

Senator FAULKNER: Fair enough. With a survey like this results are communicated to staff, which is a good thing. Is it a complete survey result or are they in some way edited? Is the document a full survey result or a partial result that goes out?

Mr Varghese : My message to staff was a comprehensive summary of the survey, and then on top of that we circulated to the relevant work units the bits of the survey that were relevant to them. The way this is done is that you can break it down by work unit, if you have seven or more responses. So, we give the work unit the picture that the survey delivers for them. We give all staff a picture of the overall conclusions. There are about 2,700 pages of annexes in the survey and obviously we are not going to be circulating that to every member of staff.

Senator FAULKNER: How many work units are there? How many different communications do you send out, effectively?

Mr Varghese : The work units would be divisions, of which we have now in the integrated department about 25. Our overseas posts where you get seven or more answers—and obviously we have some very small posts that would not meet that threshold—we have 97 posts; a proportion of those are state offices. That is essentially the breakdown.

Senator FAULKNER: Who conducts the pulse survey?

Mr Varghese : ORIMA Research. They do it for many public service departments.

Senator FAULKNER: Do they do the broader biennial survey as well?

Mr Varghese : They do. It is the same company.

Senator FAULKNER: What resource implications are there for the conduct of the survey? What is the cost to the department?

Mr Varghese : Unless some of my colleagues have that, I will have to take that on notice, as to the cost of the survey.

Senator FAULKNER: I assume it was a departmental—effectively a secretary's decision—to conduct the pulse survey in addition to the more regular two-yearly survey; is that correct?

Mr Varghese : It came up in the context of our discussions in the integration steering committee. It was felt that this would be a good thing to do, and that it would provide us with some useful feedback about how this very complicated integration process was tracking, and how we could make it better and where the sources of anxiety were highest.

Senator FAULKNER: I have some questions that go to what I understand to be the outcome of this survey, only because, as I said, there was a media story that the survey was leaked. It is not satisfactory that I would depend on a leaked document in the media, but that is the way of the world; hence I was interested in seeing if you would be able to provide the substantive non-leaked document to the committee. The situation I find myself in as a committee member is that I am depending on a leak to the media where I would prefer to depend on the erudite analysis that you have made and forwarded to officers in the department.

Mr Varghese : I would like to share that with you. I only asked to take it on notice, because I do not have my message in front of me. I just want to satisfy myself that there is nothing in there that would raise legitimate issues in relation to tabling.

Senator FAULKNER: Fair enough. Can I ask you this. Because you do not have your message in front of you, does that also mean that it would be better for me to flag with you some questions and come back to it at another stage of the estimates hearing about the findings of the survey?

Mr Varghese : I am happy to talk about the findings of the survey.

Senator FAULKNER: So, you have got the findings but not the message?

Mr Varghese : I have some distilled information on the findings. I do not have 2,700 pages of it.

Senator FAULKNER: Of course not. You have distilled information about the findings but not the accompanying message that went to staff. That is fair enough. I do not know if you saw the media reports. I am depending on that.

Mr Varghese : I did see some media reports on it.

Senator FAULKNER: I am being frank with you. I am depending on those. I would not have known about it otherwise. Firstly, let me ask a threshold question: did the survey effectively focus on the issue of the amalgamation DFAT and AusAID, because that was the impression I gleaned from reading the media articles? Please tell me what the situation is.

Mr Varghese : One of the main purposes of the survey was to help us understand how our managing of the integration was proceeding, and therefore the questions in the survey were targeted at eliciting information that was useful to that understanding. So, we were trying to take the pulse of integration, if you like.

Senator FAULKNER: So, if you like, that was the key imperative.

Mr Varghese : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: That is fair enough. It sounds like a sensible thing to do. Is it true that, from the perspective of an agency head, you found the results pretty disturbing? As they were reported, I would have thought from your perspective as agency head they were pretty disappointing, pretty negative?

Mr Varghese : I did not find the results either disturbing or disappointing. I found the results understandable and I found them useful in terms of helping me and the senior leadership of the department continue with our management of integration. If I could put this into some context. Firstly, we are dealing with an extraordinarily complicated organisational merger. It is complicated in a structural sense and it is complicated in a cultural sense. Secondly, we were dealing with very high levels of uncertainty when the survey was taken back in February and March. Uncertainty on the part, particularly, of our former AusAID colleagues about what the envelope of staffing was going to be in relation to aid related positions and uncertainty about how the development cooperation skills would fit into the integrated department.

In my view, those areas of the survey which show lower levels of satisfaction than would have applied pre integration in DFAT and lower levels of satisfaction than would have applied pre integration in AusAID reflect fundamentally those factors. I am not complacent in any of this, because clearly there are also lessons in the survey for us to learn, and I have mentioned that in my message to all staff, about how we continue to communicate, to explain and to be transparent about this process. I have been committed from day 1 with this integration to being as transparent with staff about what we were doing, and I propose to continue that and I see the pulse surveys as actually reflecting that.

Senator FAULKNER: When you say you found the results of the survey to be understandable and useful, are you able to point to any tangible consequences of these? You say they are useful, but have there been any tangible impacts/changes? Has there been any change of approach or actions resulting from the survey. When you say it is useful, has it really made a difference in any sense?

Mr Varghese : The biggest change that has occurred since the survey is that we are now able to give our colleagues an answer to the question of what are the department's numbers going to be and where are those numbers going to be located. If you accept my proposition that uncertainty was a big factor behind the degree of unease amongst people in the integrated department, particularly unease amongst former AusAID officers, I think the fact that we have been able to do that quickly after the budget and do it in what I think is a reasonably transparent way will help.

We have obviously also strengthened our approach to communications, to ensuring that we make sure that the information base for staff on what decisions are being taken and why are strengthened. We have asked each division to have a look at their results and to put together specific plans for addressing the concerns that are expressed in their divisional feedback in relation to the pulse survey and to put in place stronger processes for consulting staff and stronger processes for explaining to staff. From my point of view, it has indeed been useful. I think we have taken some useful steps in response to it.

Senator FAULKNER: I do accept what you say about unease; that there is unease. I am in no position to be able to make a judgment as to the extent to which uncertainty has led to that concern in the department, but I have not had, of course, the value as you have of examining the survey responses of DFAT employees. According to the media reports on this, this is a survey that has a very high proportion of responses from the department. Can you confirm that is the case? In other words, it is a very positive response rate.

Mr Varghese : There was a 65 per cent response rate, which I think is respectable for surveys of this sort.

Senator FAULKNER: Does that equate with the figure that was reported of over 4,000 staff?

Mr Varghese : Yes, 4,190.

Senator FAULKNER: So, this goes to all staff, including locally engaged employers, does it?

Mr Varghese : That is right.

Senator FAULKNER: Is there a difference in proportion in terms of locally engaged employers and others?

Mr Varghese : I would have to check. I do not know off the top of my head the answer to that question.

Mr Fisher : It would be approximately the same.

Senator FAULKNER: On the figures, it looks like there is quite a significant decline, but can you share the figures with me in terms of what is described broadly as a pride in working for DFAT? I picked up the terminology from media reports. It may not be a completely accurate interpretation of questions asked in the survey. I would ask you to comment in the broad on any information you are able to in relation to that broad area of what is described as pride in working at DFAT.

Mr Varghese : I think, like any survey, it threw up pluses and minuses. They were positive results in relation to job satisfaction.

Senator FAULKNER: Can you say what those figures were?

Mr Varghese : Around three-quarters of staff indicated that they were satisfied overall with their current job. That is not far from where we were pre integration.

Senator FAULKNER: So, where were we pre integration?

Mr Varghese : Pre integration we were 78 per cent for DFAT and 77 per cent for AusAID.

Senator FAULKNER: At the time of this survey it was 75 per cent across-the-board, was it?

Mr Varghese : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: You would describe that as a positive response? It is a decline on the previous level of satisfaction, but you could interpret it as positive; perhaps ungenerously I could say it appears to be a fall in satisfaction levels.

Mr Varghese : Let me explain why I think it is positive. We are dealing here with, as I said before, a very big shift for both organisations. In my experience, change of that magnitude invariably affects attitudes in an organisation. In terms of job satisfaction, which I think is quite an important indicator, to see only a slight dip in the context of a huge organisational churn on balance to me is positive. Now, as I say, you have some positive results and you have some negative results.

Mr Fisher : We benchmarked this against large agencies having undertaken similar change in the last six years, or as soon as we could, and we were in around the top third of agencies. From that point of view as well it was a relatively positive outcome.

Senator FAULKNER: Are the figures of a 70 per cent level of pride in working at DFAT, for the integrated DFAT, and 90 per cent at AusAID prior to integration accurate figures?

Mr Varghese : I would have to check on those figures, because I do not have those particular figures in front of me.

Senator FAULKNER: No, that is unfortunately some of the figures that were in the media reportage of the leaked document. The chairman of the committee apparently wants to move to another item. I am happy to come back to this later. What I would ask in the meantime, Mr Varghese, because it may save a fair bit of time, as did your tabling of the earlier two messages, in the time available could you perhaps have a look at whether that information could be tabled at today's hearing—the message you sent out with the broad findings of the survey. If you could do that, it may save time at a later stage.

Mr Varghese : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: At a later stage in the hearings it is my intention to revisit this issue. For some reason or another—I am not entirely clear why—the chairman appears very obsessed about moving away from this matter and on to another one. I am looking forward to what is going to be an extremely interesting intervention from another committee member forthwith. If you would not mind looking at that and tabling that at an early opportunity if you could. If you cannot, then explaining why that might not be possible, and that means I will have to plough through in some detail with questions from this side of the table, which I prefer not to do if it could be avoided.

Mr Varghese : Yes, I will.

CHAIR: Senator Faulkner, I am not obsessed with it, it is just that we—

Senator FAULKNER: You appear to be. If not, I am pleased to hear it.

CHAIR: No, I am not. I assure you. We are going to 1.1 now. We are just going to move through the program. I call Senator Fawcett.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you. Mr Varghese, Secretary Richardson from Defence yesterday made the point that we have 52 per cent of Australia's maritime trade exports going through the South China Sea, and so clearly stability in that region is significant to Australia's economic wellbeing. Could you just outline for the committee what measures DFAT is taking with our regional partners and with China to encourage a peaceful resolution in that region?

Mr Varghese : As you indicated, the stability of our region, and particularly the stability of our maritime environment, is absolutely fundamental to our economic prosperity as well as to our national security, and we seek to play a constructive role in ensuring that as the region goes through this period of rather profound transition economically, with inevitable strategic consequences, that we can hang on to the strategic stability, which has enabled the remarkable success of Asian economies over the last many decades.

At the core of these issues is a question about what kind of strategic culture we want to see embedded in our region, and in particular what should be the foundation principles upholding that strategic culture. Our position in relation to the matters that you raised is that we do not obviously take a position on the merits of competing territorial claims, of which there are many in the region, both in the East China Sea and in the South China Sea. While we do not take a position on the merits of territorial claims, we do take a very strong position on how territorial disputes should be resolved.

We seek to encourage a regional consensus around some basic principles, which include that there should be no coercion; that there should be no destabilising unilateral actions; that disputes should be resolved peacefully; that territorial claims should be clarified in relation to international law, particularly the Law of the Sea Convention.

We pursue those positions and advocate those principles bilaterally and multilaterally. We do it through the East Asia Summit, where from time to time this matter inevitably comes up. We do it in the ASEAN Regional Forum, which brings together not only the countries of the region but also some countries from outside the region. We encourage countries to approach these issues consistent with those principles, just as we encourage ASEAN and China to reach an agreement on a code of conduct.

Senator FAWCETT: I guess that last point is where I would like to dig a little deeper, if I could. We have acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN. I am aware that we now have a plan of action for the comprehensive partnership between ASEAN and Australia. I think that was signed in about 2007. I believe we still have Simon Merrifield as our ambassador to ASEAN?

Mr Varghese : Yes, Simon was our first ambassador to ASEAN and he is still in Jakarta fulfilling that role.

Senator FAWCETT: With that framework in place—bearing in mind we are not a member of ASEAN but we clearly have a number of strong strategic linkages—what specific actions are we seeking to cooperate and invest into some of the ASEAN forums? For example, the ASEAN regional defence dialogue on confidence building measures and preventative diplomacy was run in April earlier this year. Are we actively seeking to empower, inform or work with people into the agenda of meetings like that?

Mr Varghese : We are certainly seeking to pursue all of those policy objectives and embedding of principles in whatever forums that we are a party to. We are celebrating 40 years of dialogue partnership with ASEAN. When we have our dialogue partner meetings with ASEAN, we pursue that. I will ask the head of our South East Asia division to add to this. We are also contributing to workshops and confidence building measures in the context of Australia-ASEAN but also in the context of the ASEAN Regional Forum and probably in other avenues as well. Mr Cox may want to provide you with some more details.

Senator FAWCETT: Mr Cox?

Mr Cox : We also have a colleague here who was there just last week. We participated in and we funded with the Philippines an ARF seminar on the UN Law of the Sea Convention. This was the second such Law of the Sea workshop that we have funded and hosted with the Philippines. All of the members of the ASEAN Regional Forum were invited for discussions about the context, the content of the law, and raising awareness about recent developments in the Law of the Sea for the ARF members.

As you say, we participate very actively in a wide range of ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN related activities, particularly to promote maritime security. Last year, for example, I participated in the 2nd Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum, which is a forum that builds on ASEAN's own Maritime Forum to discuss, again, maritime security building measures, work on programs like the US Seafarer Training Program, which builds confidence and trust between parties, the ASEAN Plus Eight, basically the same membership as the EAS on maritime security. We participate in many other ASEAN Regional Forum activities, basically in terms of trying to raise awareness of and build compliance for the sorts of regional and global norms that we would like to see practised. The sort of strategic culture that the secretary spoke of. Our objective in membership of the ASEAN Regional Forum and the EAS and ASEAN itself is very much actively seeking to build those sorts of norms of behaviour and understandings about the sort of strategic behaviour that we would like to see practised in our region.

Senator FAWCETT: Are there any examples where ASEAN either bilaterally with individual members or unilaterally or multilaterally has resolved any of the territorial disputes that have existed to date?

Mr Cox : ASEAN has often sought to resolve disputes amongst its own members. Some of those have had greater or lesser success. For example, they have been involved in the dispute between Malaysia and Singapore over the island of Batu Puteh. That ultimately went to adjudication of the ICJ. Similarly, ASEAN has sought to resolve tensions between Cambodia and Thailand over the Preah Vihear Temple, and ultimately this did go to the ICJ.

Often ASEAN has had an initial impact just to settle the matter down. We have often seen the Indonesian Foreign Minister actively involved with others and in ASEAN in sending delegations to where violence flares or there is some sudden upswing in violence. We have seen ASEAN come in to at least temper the initial conflict, and then try to stabilise the broader situation around a set of shared principles. In the end, these things have gone to international adjudication, like in the ICJ in those two cases, for example.

Senator FAWCETT: I guess what I am looking for is that, given the importance to Australia economically and strategically, there are viable paths to adjudication within the existing framework of international law that we need to keep investing in this process to bring the parties to dialogue.

Mr Cox : I think it is true to say that Australia does believe that ASEAN over the years since its formation in 1967 has had a very important impact in creating some of the norms of consultation, negotiation, peaceful settlement of disputes amongst its neighbours. That does not mean that there is always peace between them. There can often be conflicts around the borders or misunderstandings between them, but I think the success of ASEAN, since its foundation in the days after confrontation, has been to find ways in which the environment around disputes can be settled down and then lead to external or other sources of mediation or dispute settlement.

There is something called the ASEAN High Council, which was set up in ASEAN's founding documents to actually settle disputes, but as far as I am aware there has never been recourse to the ASEAN High Council itself. There is always usually preference for forms of mediation, consultation, and a sort of calming down of disputes as opposed to pitched mediations involving tripartite or some sort of adjudication involving us. More a sort of consultative negotiated type resolution to disputes.

Senator FAWCETT: While we have Mr Cox at the table for South East Asia, can I just ask a couple of questions on South East Asia? Is it still 1.1?

CHAIR: We are doing North Asia at the moment.

Senator FAWCETT: That is fine. I will come back then. I am finished with North Asia.

CHAIR: What does the committee feel?

Senator STEPHENS: We have got lots of—

Senator EDWARDS: In the China space.

CHAIR: All right.

Senator EDWARDS: This morning when we spoke about the former foreign minister it was revealed that he travelled to China on 19 and 21 August in the caretaker period in 2013. Given that foreign ministers' diaries are pretty much set in stone a long way out, certainly well and truly six months, from what I am led to believe, when was the trip to China finalised? The one that was the China trip in the caretaker period from 19 to 21 August? We might have to wait for Mr Roach. Effectively, I am asking you: was it included in what I think is termed the forward travel plan, in foreign minister office speak.

Mr Roach : You are correct in terms of your reference to a forward travel plan. You might recall when we spoke this morning I was not sure in my mind when caretaker period commenced. The minister confirmed that it was 6 August.

Senator EDWARDS: Correct.

Mr Roach : The visit to China occurred before caretaker began.

Senator EDWARDS: So, the trip was finalised prior to the caretaker period beginning?

Mr Roach : It was finalised and indeed undertaken before caretaker began. He returned from China on 3 August. The caretaker period began, I understand, on 6 August.

Senator EDWARDS: Have you got a date when it was actually finalised? I guess there is the moment where you say, 'Yes, we are going to China.'

Mr Roach : There is a letter from the Prime Minister for each travel that would provide that. I am afraid in terms of the date of that I would need to take that on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: Thank you very much. It was relatively soon, from what I can gather. If it was not proposed by Mr Carr, who was it proposed by? Was it proposed by somebody in the department or was it proposed by Mr Carr?

Mr Roach : I would not say that in terms of the way the travel was proposed that it either comes from the office or the department. You referred to the forward travel program. This is done every six months. The department works with the ministers' officers to talk about what should be the forward program.

In terms of talking about a trip to China, that would be the sort of discussion that would go backwards and forwards between the office and the department as to when would be an appropriate time, when would it be good from our interest perspectives, when we think it would be convenient for the Chinese, and we tick-tack backwards and forwards quite informally about what dates and what countries should go into that forward travel.

Senator EDWARDS: Okay, but it was not in the rolling forward plan as I understand it. It came into the forward plan quite late, did it?

Mr Roach : I do not know about that. I would need to check that.

Senator EDWARDS: I am asking you. I am making the contention. Are you going to find out, though?

Mr Roach : I will look into that.

Senator EDWARDS: That is the date in which that was finalised. Which diplomatic post in China was responsible for organising Mr Carr's trip?

Mr Roach : The overarching responsibility for that visit would have rested with our post in Beijing, but the minister's travel to China occurred across a number of cities. He was in Hong Kong, Chengdu, Xiamen, Fuzhou and Chongqing.

Senator EDWARDS: But Beijing was the one that marshalled the trip and organised it all and the other outlying—

Mr Roach : They would have been working with the relevant Consulate Generals to be tick-tacking on arrangements.

Senator EDWARDS: So, Beijing was your go-to point?

Mr Roach : That would have been correct, to begin with.

Senator EDWARDS: When were they first notified of Mr Carr's impending travel?

Mr Roach : I would need to take that on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: I have already asked this question earlier. Can you ensure that we find out who travelled with Mr Carr and the cost of the trip?

Mr Roach : Yes, certainly.

Senator EDWARDS: I asked that earlier this morning.

Mr Roach : You did in regard to the Indonesia visit. If I can just confirm, you will recall from our earlier exchanges in previous Senate estimates that we rely on the six-monthly report done by the Department of Finance. The last report was in December 2013. Since you and I saw each other previously at Senate estimates, about three or four months ago, there has not subsequently been a further publication. The next publication, I would imagine, would be imminent, but until that publication happens I cannot give you the travel costs.

Senator EDWARDS: That is not a problem, but I am sure that by the time you get back to me with questions on notice that it will have been tabled.

Mr Roach : I hope so, yes.

Senator DASTYARI: I have some questions about China and then a little bit on Japan as well so I think now is probably the appropriate time to ask them. Before I go there, there has been some scuttlebutt and rumours that there is about to be some change at the China desk. Is that true or not?

Mr Varghese : Our China desk?

Senator DASTYARI: Your China desk.

Mr Varghese : We have China covered in many different ways.

Senator DASTYARI: The North Asia desk. I heard a rumour that Mr Rowe is heading overseas. Is that true?

Mr Varghese : I do not think there is any truth to that particular rumour.

Senator DASTYARI: But there is a rumour there?

Mr Varghese : I do not know. The first I heard of it was just then.

Senator FAULKNER: Perhaps there is a rumour that there is a rumour.

Senator DASTYARI: There are always rumours that there are rumours. The unknown unknowns. There is certainly one now.

Senator EDWARDS: Coming from Sussex Street, I guess you would know.

Senator DASTYARI: How is the wine business going? Mr Varghese, the Prime Minister this morning made some fairly consistent comments with what he said earlier regarding a potential territorial dispute to do with China and Japan. You have a lot on your plate, Secretary Varghese, but I am sure you are aware that Mr Richardson made some comments, as did the Defence Minister, to this earlier in the week. I just wanted to get your take on how significant and serious the situation is from a DFAT perspective.

Mr Varghese : We are concerned about the potential of territorial disputes in both the South and the East China Seas to destabilise the strategic stability which has underpinned economic growth in the region for many decades now. I think you were out of the room when I was responding to a set of questions from Senator Fawcett about our approach to these issues, but I am happy to go over some of that ground again.

Senator DASTYARI: There is no need for things that I can look up on the record. It is not so much our approach. What I am more interested in is your assessment. The assessment provided by Secretary Richardson was that probably no-one in the region was looking for conflict, but there was always the potential of miscalculation resulting in conflict.

Mr Varghese : I would share that assessment.

Senator DASTYARI: I only heard the Prime Minister's comments this morning on the television as they were being said; I have not seen a written report of them. They were effectively to the view, not that dissimilar from what the government has said in the past, which is strongly discouraging any form of unilateral action in the region. Is that a fair assessment of it?

Senator Brandis: Rather than ask the secretary to comment on your paraphrase of what you remember hearing, let me actually read to you the Prime Minister comments from the transcript.

Senator DASTYARI: That would be perfect. Thank you.

Senator Brandis: He stated that General Moeldoko, the Commander-in-Chief of the Indonesian Armed Forces, wrote in the Wall Street Journal a month ago that he was dismayed at China's inclusion of Indonesia's Natuna Islands in the 'nine-dash line'. The question was asked:

Will you be discussing the rise of China, that particular claim as well, with President SBY while you are there and, secondly, when will you make a decision on the F-35B jump jet?

He addressed the defence white paper first and then specifically on the islands this is what he said:

I think there is a lot that we can discuss on the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The Australian government has long had a very consistent position. We discourage unilateral actions, we very strongly discourage and we disapprove of unilateral actions. We think no country should seek to be provocative in what is a contested part of the world. We think that territorial claims should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law.

Question:

It sounds like Australia shares Indonesia's concern about the inclusion of the Natuna Islands in that nine-dash line area and other territorial claims China has made of late?

Prime Minister: Well, we don't think there should be any disturbance to the status quo other than by due process of international law.

That is the only reference in the Prime Minister's transcript to that issue. Your paraphrase was a fairly good paraphrase, but it is just as well that we had the actual words.

Senator DASTYARI: We have had this debate in this room before. The government position, I am no way implying, has not been consistent. It has actually been somewhat consistent on that front. Some would disagree with what our level of involvement should be, but that is a separate debate. There is not a question of consistency.

Mr Varghese, you would obviously be aware of the recent comments by the United States President and on the weekend by Chuck Hagel, the US Defense Secretary, fairly clearly outlining the American view, broadcasting their position in fact, that if there were to be a conflict they believe their treaty obligations would necessitate their involvement in the conflict on the side of Japan. Again, I am paraphrasing what is a more nuanced position than that, but you are quite aware of those comments to that effect, Mr Varghese?

Mr Varghese : I am aware of comments by the American leadership, including the President, about whether the Senkaku Diaoyu Islands are covered under the US-Japan treaty arrangements.

Senator DASTYARI: We have passed the point of what the American response would be. They have broadcast their position. If that were to occur, what would Australia's obligations be?

Mr Varghese : I think my colleague the Secretary of Defence had a similar discussion with you and it may not surprise you, but I would adopt a similar position to him, and that is that we are not going to engage in speculation about hypotheticals—

Senator DASTYARI: It is not a hypothetical.

Mr Varghese : With respect, it is.

Senator DASTYARI: The question of what are Australia's obligations under the ANZUS Treaty is not a hypothetical.

Mr Varghese : Australia's obligations under the ANZUS Treaty are what the ANZUS Treaty says. I would refer you to the ANZUS Treaty.

Senator DASTYARI: There is one of two things that you can be telling me. Firstly, which I think is highly unlikely, that you have not done your own analysis on what Australia's obligations would be in that scenario or, secondly, that you are not prepared to tell us.

Mr Varghese : I do not think that any purpose is served for Australian officials to be speculating in public about what might or might not happen by way of invoking the ANZUS Treaty.

Senator DASTYARI: The Americans are doing it. It is not uncommon for people to broadcast what their position would be for a potential conflict. In fact, some would argue that that is what the Americans have done as a strategic measure to reduce the possibility of conflict.

Senator Brandis: You might make that comment, but you have heard Mr Varghese's answer. Mr Varghese's answer is Mr Varghese's answer, and that is where it will remain.

Senator DASTYARI: I just want to go back and ask a process question. Has there been an analysis done by the Department of Foreign Affairs on what are our treaty obligations and whether these kinds of scenarios would result in the triggering of our treaty obligations? Not what those obligations are; I am asking the process question, not the policy question.

Mr Varghese : Our treaty obligations under ANZUS exist at any point in time. We do not sit down every day, scan the global horizon and say, 'What is happening around the world that might trigger an ANZUS Treaty obligation?'

Senator DASTYARI: This is a particularly volatile situation in the region.

CHAIR: Let the secretary answer.

Senator DASTYARI: Is the answer, no?

Mr Varghese : The answer is what I gave.

Senator DASTYARI: That was not an answer. That was a little series of words.

Senator Brandis: You may think that. I thought it was a perfectly responsive answer to what you describe as a process question. I point out that the ANZUS Treaty is a public document and it is written in the English language so anyone, including you, can read it.

Senator DASTYARI: I think I have read the ANZUS Treaty. My questions relate more to how it would be interpreted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and by the government. Can I move on to Japan?

CHAIR: They are in North Asia, so you are quite welcome to do that.

Senator DASTYARI: Dr McCarthy's previous title was the National Security Advisor at PM&C. I think her title is now First Assistant Secretary or something to that effect. Dr McCarthy recently mentioned that following the Prime Minister's visit to Japan that herself, a gentleman by the name of Andrew Shearer, who works for the Prime Minister, and DFAT officials involved in national security had a trip to Japan. Is that correct?

Mr Varghese : It is not correct in relation to DFAT officials. There was no DFAT participation in the trip that I think Dr McCarthy was referring to.

Senator DASTYARI: What Dr McCarthy told us—and Mr Rowe may know more about this than obviously I do—that following the Prime Minister's trip to Japan there was a follow-up meeting where national security officials travelled to Japan. I think it was a few weeks after as a not so uncommon kind of follow-up. But you are saying that DFAT was not part of that?

Mr Varghese : That is right.

Senator DASTYARI: So, there were no DFAT officials there from the embassy and this and that?

Mr Varghese : No. You asked me whether DFAT officials travelled to Japan and I said that they did not. Obviously we have DFAT officials in the embassy.

Senator DASTYARI: So, they participated in the meetings?

Mr Varghese : I would imagine. I would be very surprised if there was not a DFAT official that would have participated in the meetings.

Senator DASTYARI: This is a question for DPM&C and I will leave it with them on notice. I was going to ask you if you knew who else travelled on that trip from Australia?

Mr Varghese : No, I do not, because it was not a DFAT trip, as it were.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Rowe, is that your understanding; too; there were DFAT officials from the embassy that participated in those meetings?

Mr Rowe : No officials from Canberra were part of that delegation.

Senator DASTYARI: But local officials participated?

Mr Rowe : People from the embassy would have facilitated whatever meetings took place and participated.

Senator DASTYARI: What was the purpose of the trip?

Senator Brandis: As you said yourself, that is a question for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator DASTYARI: They kind of directed us to you.

Senator Brandis: I do not know what was said to you in another estimates committee.

Senator DASTYARI: Fair enough. I am happy to go back to them on notice and give my follow-up questions on the matter.

Senator Brandis: Why don't you just do that.

Senator DASTYARI: When the Prime Minister visited Japan he attended the NSC, the National Security Committee, of Japan; is that correct?

Mr Varghese : That is right. He had a meeting with the National Security Committee.

Senator DASTYARI: Obviously on the invitation of I assume the Japanese government; is that correct?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, he just pushed in.

CHAIR: No, he just wandered in.

Senator Brandis: I think that is a fair inference.

Senator DASTYARI: Who else participated in that meeting with the Prime Minister? Were you in that meeting, Mr Varghese?

Mr Varghese : No, I was not, and I think you would have to direct that question to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Senator DASTYARI: Did anyone from DFAT participate in that meeting?

Mr Varghese : There would not have been anyone from DFAT in Canberra who participated in that meeting. I am trying to think of whether the ambassador was present and he probably was.

Senator DASTYARI: You were part of that trip, Mr Varghese; you were there?

Mr Varghese : I was.

Senator DASTYARI: I think I bumped into you in China at one point. Are you aware of any other Australian Prime Minister ever having attended an NSC meeting of another country?

Mr Varghese : I think at the time Prime Minister Abe or at least the Japanese government indicated that that was the first time a foreign leader had been invited to participate in a meeting of the National Security Committee. Mind you, the National Security Committee in Japan is a relatively new institution.

Senator DASTYARI: What do you think the significance of that was? What is your interpretation? You obviously look at these things and you interpret these things. What is the significance of being invited to something like that?

Mr Varghese : I think it is reflective of the relationship that we have with Japan. It is reflective of shared strategic interests. It is reflected in the fact that the Australia-Japan bilateral relationship is one of our most important and one of our strongest.

Senator DASTYARI: Was there concern provided to you by the Chinese government about the implications of that?

Mr Varghese : I am not aware of any comment from the Chinese government to us about it.

Senator DASTYARI: So, when you had the follow-up from Japan—and correct me if I am wrong, you went directly from there to China—it was not raised?

Mr Varghese : Raised with the Prime Minister? Not to my knowledge.

Senator DASTYARI: And it was not raised with DFAT?

Mr Varghese : Not to my knowledge, no.

Senator DASTYARI: By the ambassador or anyone at any point?

Mr Varghese : The Chinese Ambassador?

Senator DASTYARI: Yes, with you?

Mr Varghese : Certainly not with me. I do not know whether Mr Rowe can add anything to that.

Mr Rowe : The ambassador made a remark to me about it. He did not make a comment. He did not express anything negative or positive about it.

Senator DASTYARI: Where is Ambassador Ma at the moment?

Mr Varghese : I do not know where he is.

Senator DASTYARI: The media reports are that he has gone back to China. Is that correct?

Mr Varghese : I think he was in China last week. Whether he is still in China, I do not know.

Mr Rowe : He is back. I saw him yesterday.

Senator DASTYARI: Just taking a few steps back. This is slightly in the broader space, but we are going to get a tiny bit of leeway from the chair.

CHAIR: I never said that.

Senator DASTYARI: They were your exact words to me.

CHAIR: You are verballing me, and I do not think that is a really good idea.

Senator DASTYARI: I will ask a whole series of questions on notice, but I will just give you forewarning regarding the Prime Minister's travel to China, Japan and Korea, who was there and the different people—

Mr Varghese : With respect, can I suggest that if your questions go to the Prime Minister's travel they be directed to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Senator DASTYARI: They will be directed there as well, but about the DFAT involvement in the trip.

Senator Brandis: You have just been told there was not any.

Senator DASTYARI: There was DFAT involvement in the whole trip. There certainly was. We discussed this. The ambassador had a role. Mr Varghese himself and the secretary of the department travelled—

Senator Brandis: If you confine your questions in this estimates committee to whatever involvement DFAT may have had, that would probably be best.

Senator DASTYARI: I am happy to come back if there is still time for North Asia.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Is Australia still involved in Fukushima, Japan, in any way, in the recovery?

Mr Rowe : I could not give you an accurate answer on that. I think there may be some work with the Australia-Japan Foundation.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will be more specific. I have raised this in previous estimates but I am just seeking an update. At some stage there was a proposal that farmers from Fukushima would travel to North Queensland and grow rice crops there to take them back home to replace the crops they could not grow in Fukushima. Are you aware whether that has progressed or whether it has ever had more progressive thinking?

Mr Rowe : I am not aware of it. I have not heard anything on it or any update on it, so I imagine nothing dramatic has happened on that front.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will be asking these questions in the Trade area as well. I am just seeking a comment from Foreign Affairs, if you can make one, on the approach of the sugar industries, separately in Japan and then Korea, to Australian involvement in the sugar market in both countries. I understand there is a sugar growing industry in Japan. I am not sure about Korea, although they have some funny arrangements in Korea about the regulation of sugar. I will in Trade ask a bit more so for anyone involved in Trade who might be interested, I am sure they would expect it from me.

I am just wondering, in a Foreign Affairs way, whether anyone could tell me how the Japanese and separately Korean industry has reacted to the free trade agreements. Is that a reasonable question or is it just too broad?

Mr Rowe : I would prefer to defer to the people who have been working on the FTA on that issue. I cannot give you any information that I have heard or been made aware of.

Mr Varghese : It would be more useful to you if we could address that tomorrow evening when we are scheduled to cover trade issues, because all of the relevant officials who have been closely involved in it will be there or at least there will be people who are able to answer it.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I will certainly do that for the actual trade implications. I was wondering whether you or they are the right ones to tell me how the industries in both of those countries are taking it, so to speak.

Mr Varghese : I think they would be much better placed to give you an answer to that than we would.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: All right. I thought it might have been your department. I will leave it until then.

CHAIR: Can I ask you a question about Japan. I went over Easter to an Economist magazine forum on the Japanese economy, which was addressed by and opened by the Prime Minister of Japan, who seemed to be proposing that Japan take a much more proactive and outward looking policy in the general East Asian area, and I believe he said similar things quite recently in Singapore. Do you have any observations about a change in stance by the Japanese government about its role?

Mr Varghese : In relation to economic issues or more broadly?

CHAIR: More broadly; militarily in fact.

Mr Varghese : The Japanese government, under Prime Minister Abe, is committed to playing a constructive and an active role across regional issues, including regional security issues. This is something which Australia has long supported. We think it is entirely appropriate that a country of Japan's weight and standing should be actively involved in the strategic affairs of the region. I think there is continuity in Australian policy in relation to that. I think this is happening. I think it is likely to get more of a push under Prime Minister Abe, and it is something Australia would support.

CHAIR: Do you think that our support for the Japanese position is likely to have any other implications for other countries such as China and their relationship with Australia?

Mr Varghese : We try to manage these relationships so that they are not zero sum and so that we are not constrained by a framework where if we do something with one country we have to compensate with another. We think the merits of a constructive, active role by Japan in regional affairs stands on its own. We think it is in our interests and we think it is consistent with the relationship that we have with Japan.

CHAIR: Senator Faulkner had an issue that he wanted to raise.

Senator FAULKNER: I just thought it was more in Outcome 1. Whether it is services to other agencies or services to diplomatic consular representatives, it is what I had intended to ask when the committee went in a different direction. Let me try it out now, Mr Varghese, and if it is a problem and you want me to come back in an hour or so, I am happy to do that. We have held over the issue, of course, of the survey until a later stage anyway. What I wanted to ask was a more general question in outcome 1 which went to the question of what I would describe as the foreign minister's meeting with heads of mission here in Australia, ambassadors and high commissioners, that was held early last month in Western Australia. You know what I am referring to?

Mr Varghese : I do, yes.

Senator FAULKNER: I was not sure, but is this something that foreign ministers do on a regular basis or is it an irregular thing? How often do foreign ministers have these sorts of functions with heads of mission in Australia?

Mr Varghese : It has become a practice with the last several foreign ministers to arrange such a trip. I know it was the case when Mr Downer was foreign minister. It was certainly something Mr Rudd did as foreign minister. I am not sure Senator Carr did one during his shorter tenure as foreign minister, and now of course Foreign Minister Bishop has continued with it. Typically they tend to take them to a place outside of Canberra and by sheer coincidence, in most cases, it happens to coincide with their home state.

Senator FAULKNER: I probably would not use the words 'sheer coincidence' myself, but that is absolutely fair enough. It is understandable that foreign ministers would attempt to showcase their home state. I think that goes without saying.

Senator Brandis: Not just foreign ministers. You might remember during the election campaign Mr Rudd momentarily toyed with the idea of rebasing the entire Australian Navy in his own electorate.

Senator FAULKNER: As you know, you should not mislead the estimates committee, because it was not the entire Australian Navy. I believe you will find it was Fleet Base East. Anyway, let us not get technical. I know that probably was not a deliberate mislead of the estimates committee.

Senator Brandis: I was just twisting your—

Senator FAULKNER: It was just loose language on your part. What I am not clear about with these functions—and I just wanted to focus on the most recent one—is whether the costs for that are borne by DFAT? Are they borne by the individual posts or is there a mix depending on how pecunious the various posts might be? Can you just explain that me? I assume it is borne by DFAT.

Mr Varghese : Ms Mansfield, as Chief of Protocol, had overall responsibility for organising this trip. I think the short answer is that it is a mix, but I will let Ms Mansfield give you the details.

Ms Mansfield : The custom has been over the last number of years with these trips that each individual head of mission who joins the foreign minister on the trip pays for their airfares to get to the point of departure, which was Perth in this case, as well as all of the accommodation. Those are the basic costs that they will cover, and then what the department covered were the ones associated with, for example, hiring buses to move the group around and some of the meals. It is a split.

Senator FAULKNER: In this case, the fact that the foreign minister's home state is Western Australia, it would probably cost a little more if it was just obviously up the road at Sydney, but I understand what you are saying.

Ms Mansfield : It cost the individual ambassadors and high commissioners a little more, yes.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. Let us be specific about the one that was held in Western Australia, I think it was early—

Ms Mansfield : 1 to 3 May.

Senator FAULKNER: I just picked this up from a photograph that was of the heads of mission. Fair enough; 1 to 3 May. Thank you for that. Are you able to say how many heads of mission, I assume ambassadors and high commissioners, attended on this occasion?

Ms Mansfield : Yes. The maximum we had at any one time was 72. On a couple of occasions, a head of mission had to drop out of the program for one reason or another. There were ambassadors, high commissioners and some chargés.

Senator FAULKNER: That is an impressive number. Is that typical for these sorts of functions?

Ms Mansfield : That was a very high number. I think we had a few more total diplomats for the previous one when Mr Rudd took the corps to Queensland, but that included some consuls-general and some other deputy heads of mission. In terms of actual heads of mission, this was the largest number that we had had.

Senator FAULKNER: Are efforts made—and it would be totally reasonable in my view if they were—for missions that might not have as substantial a budget as some would have to try to ensure that those heads of mission are not excluded in some way? Is DFAT proactive about this? I am not going to go to specific cases.

Ms Mansfield : No, we left the costs of getting to and from Perth entirely up to the individual mission, so it was their choice. We tried to give them enough notice so that they could potentially book their flights early enough to get a reasonable deal.

Senator FAULKNER: Fair enough. From what I know about this, there were obviously functions in Government House in Perth.

Ms Mansfield : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: I gather also that heads of mission went to the Pilbara—is that right?

Ms Mansfield : That is right. The first day was spent in and around Perth on a number of different sites. The second day was spent up in the Pilbara. We visited the Mount Whaleback site at Mount Newman, and we went on to Karratha and visited the LNG and some Rio operations there.

Senator FAULKNER: What was DFAT's budget for the elements of this, which you have explained, that are hosted by DFAT?

Ms Mansfield : We put up as an initial budget $160,000 and the budget has come in at just under $150,000. There are a couple of bills outstanding, but that is where we expect to sit.

Senator FAULKNER: So just under $160,000?

Ms Mansfield : No, the actual costs will be just under $150,000.

Senator FAULKNER: Would you be able to take on notice for me a list of the missions that attended? Would that be okay? There are a lot of them, obviously—72 of them.

Ms Mansfield : Yes, certainly. That is easily done.

Senator FAULKNER: I do not want you to run through them while you are at the table, but you might just take that on notice, if you would not mind, Ms Mansfield.

Ms Mansfield : I can also say that it was extremely varied in terms of the participation. There were some quite small missions as well as some of the bigger ones represented. We will happily send you a list.

Senator FAULKNER: One of the other things I noticed was a visit to the Sandalford Estate Winery.

CHAIR: Very important.

Ms Mansfield : That is right.

Senator FAULKNER: I have never been there. I would not know.

Ms Mansfield : The final event of the three days was the lunch at Sandalford, and that was accompanied by a tour of the plant there, and also Peter Prendiville, who is the Chair of WA Tourism, spoke to the group about winemaking and tourism in Western Australia.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I saw the photo of the CEO of Sandalford I assume addressing the heads of mission that attended. What proportion of the $160,000 did that lunch set DFAT back?

Ms Mansfield : I would have to check the exact details, but I think it was in the vicinity of $12,000.

Senator FAULKNER: What you might do for us, if it is okay—because I do not want to delay the committee too long on this—is give the committee a breakdown, just as far as the DFAT elements are concerned.

Ms Mansfield : The major costs?

Senator FAULKNER: I want the broad categories: food, alcohol and transport. Is it fair to say they are the key elements covered by the department? That is what I picked up from what you said, but you tell me if that is not right.

Ms Mansfield : Yes, that would be right. I do not know that there is an obvious breakdown between food and alcohol, because at a number of the things it was just food. I can give you a lunch, dinner and transport breakdown.

Senator FAULKNER: If you could do your best on that, I would appreciate it.

Ms Mansfield : Yes, sure.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Just a follow-up on that, I think they are very good questions of Senator Faulkner, but just to put it into perspective I wonder if you could answer the same questions for me on the previous visit you spoke about. It is probably outside of the timing of this thing, but I am sure it has probably been asked before anyhow and you would have it handily there. Could I just ask for the same information about it on notice please?

Ms Mansfield : Yes. We should be able to get a similar breakdown for the 2011 trip to Queensland.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks for that.

Mr Varghese : Could I just make one observation if I may, Senator Faulkner, and I am sure you are not suggesting otherwise, and that is—

Senator FAULKNER: I do not believe I suggested anything, Mr Varghese. Normally I just ask questions and leave the suggestions for others around the room.

Mr Varghese : That is why I said I am sure you are not suggesting otherwise. This trip was, in my view—and I participated in it—good value for money in terms of showcasing Australia as a resources powerhouse, including, I should add, a visit to Rio's operations centre outside of Perth Airport, which I think gobsmacked most of the diplomatic corps in terms of the level of technology and sophistication that is part of our resources sector. It was also important in terms of broader tourism promotion, bearing in mind that the tourism function is now in the DFAT portfolio.

Senator FAULKNER: I do not doubt that for a minute. My questions, as you have probably heard, which I did not progress in any detail, go to a concern that if you have a trip like this, effectively for a smaller mission operating with an inevitably much smaller budget with fewer resources, is there any account taken of that? That was the import of the questions I was asking. Obviously, I am not asking for those missions to be identified, but I was just wondering if DFAT took this into account. When I heard about the function, it is a long way from Canberra, where most of the missions are, and I was wondering about the impact of travel costs and the like. Let me now, having said that, make a comment. I am all for also promoting and supporting the objectives that you have just outlined to the committee.

Ms Mansfield : Could I add one thing, too. A lot of the feedback we had from the diplomatic corps was around the opportunity to actually go to Western Australia. As you know, some of the smaller missions do not have the obvious business interests that some of the bigger ones might have. Most of the ambassadors and high commissioners who came over added a day or two on to their program so that they could do their own individual day of programs specific to their country interests. So it served that purpose as well.

Senator FAULKNER: That sounds sensible and logical. As I have mentioned, there are resource constraints on missions. Is DFAT able to provide any assistance in that regard or is that effectively just left to the individual missions or heads of missions to organise? You can point them in the right direction at least.

Ms Mansfield : That is right. Often also the state government will provide assistance. Most state government premiers' offices have an international area that will provide support particularly to a head of mission who is on their first visit. After that, there is more of an assumption that the individual will have enough contacts that they can put a program together as well. Many of them also have honorary consuls in the state capitals who are able to assist them with community and business interests.

Senator FAULKNER: Mr Varghese, have we had any luck with your communication in regard to the survey yet?

Mr Varghese : I think we are probably close. I do not know whether the Chair is planning to break at 3.30 for tea, but after tea we should be able to give you a definitive answer.

Senator FAULKNER: Of whether we are close or not?

Mr Varghese : No, I think the answer will be more definitive than that.

Senator FAULKNER: Good. I look forward to it. Thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: Our scheduled break was at 3.15, so we might break now for everybody to get some refreshments.

Proceedings suspended from 15 : 14 to 15 : 31

CHAIR: We will resume. I understand the secretary has a statement he wishes to make.

Mr Varghese : I just wanted to get back to the committee on a couple of the issues that had been raised, particularly by Senator Faulkner. If you would let me do that, even in his absence. On the costs of the pulse surveys, we have budgeted $62,000 to cover the costs of the four surveys and of those four surveys two will be all-staff surveys—so, the first one was an all-staff survey—and two will be sample surveys. The costs will obviously vary according to full staff and sample surveys, but a total budget of $62,000.

The February pulse survey, which was an all-staff one, came in at $31,309. I should also have mentioned when I was responding to Senator Faulkner on the things that we have done in response to or relevant to the findings of the pulse survey that, of course, we are independently putting in place a capability review action plan to respond to the comprehensive capability review that was done last year of DFAT under the auspices of the Public Service Commission. This is a sort of semi-independent external review of our operations.

Four things in that capability review action plan are directly relevant to the issues raised in the pulse survey. Firstly, we are putting together a DFAT strategic framework, because one of the comments in the pulse survey was a need for more clarity around the department's strategic objectives. Secondly, we are putting in place a DFAT workforce plan, and this will go to a number of issues but will include the balance between specialisation and generalisation in our department and how we ensure we have the requisite mix of skills. Thirdly, there will be a more formal articulation of our culture and values, again something which was picked up in the pulse survey and in the capability review. Lastly, there is work on valuing non-DFAT experience. I do not consider development cooperation experience as non-DFAT experience in an integrated department, but it is relevant to some of the concerns expressed in the pulse survey.

If I can just confirm for Senator Faulkner that I am happy to table the message to all staff that I issued on the pulse survey, together with its attachment. In the interests of keeping this committee as fully informed as possible, I am also tabling a progress report on the integration which we produced in April of this year, which goes through in summary form where we are in terms of structure, governance, people, retaining and building development expertise, communication and consultations, how we are handling operations at posts, how we are handling information technology issues, finance issues, property and logistics. I hope the committee finds that additional information also of use.

Senator FAULKNER: I very much appreciate Mr Varghese also tabling the additional information. That is appreciated. Obviously there are a couple of reasonably substantial documents here. I will have a read of those and there may be some questions that arise from them. Just so we get context here, when did your message go to all staff?

Mr Varghese : Let me check the date, because it is not actually written on there.

Senator FAULKNER: No, it is not. That is why I am asking.

Mr Varghese : Can I check on that and get back to you?

Senator FAULKNER: Let me just ask: is it pre-budget, I assume?

Mr Varghese : Yes, definitely. It was 6 May.

Senator FAULKNER: It is only just pre-budget. Thank you. If I can just flag with you, Chair, you should give committee members a chance to read this material and there might be some questions that flow from them.

CHAIR: All right. Thank you.

Senator FAULKNER: I thank the officers of the department who have assisted with enabling that tabling to take place.

CHAIR: Mr Varghese?

Mr Varghese : That is it for me.

CHAIR: Have we any more questions on North Asia?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, we can move on.

CHAIR: What about South-East Asia? Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I have some questions in relation to Cambodia and the proposed Cambodia deal.

Senator EDWARDS: Senator Faulkner still has North Asia questions.

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator EDWARDS: You are moving to South-East Asia now, are you?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Yes, I was going to.

Senator EDWARDS: We have not completed North Asia.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, thank you, I—

Senator EDWARDS: So, for clarification, Chair, we are staying with the program and we will move when Senator Faulkner is finished to South-East Asia.

CHAIR: Senator Faulkner has questions on North Asia.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but I will not detain the committee long.

Senator EDWARDS: I do not think anybody out there heard what we were doing, that was all.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am just trying to clarify for the sake of Hansard what is going on.

Senator EDWARDS: We knew what was going on; nobody else out there knew what was going on.

CHAIR: I will make a statement. We still have questions on North Asia and we will complete the questions relevant to that region. Senator Faulkner has the call.

Senator FAULKNER: The Prime Minister has left for overseas again. Certainly, I believe his most recent trip, perhaps his only trip, to China since he has been Prime Minister was an early April trip. I just wanted to check—this had been canvassed a little earlier before the break, but I think it was around 11 or 12 April. I am just going on memory. Can you confirm that, Mr Rowe?

Mr Rowe : It was the week of 8 April.

Senator FAULKNER: The week of 8 April?

Mr Rowe : Yes, sorry, I had to check the dates. I have got them here.

Senator FAULKNER: Fair enough. Thank you for that. Are you able to say how many days the Prime Minister spent in China on that trip?

Mr Varghese : From memory, I think it was four days in China. He did stops in Sanya, Shanghai and Beijing during that trip.

Senator FAULKNER: Are you one of the DFAT officers that accompanied the Prime Minister on that trip?

Mr Varghese : For most of that trip, yes.

Senator FAULKNER: What do you mean for 'most of the trip'?

Mr Varghese : It was a trip through three countries. It was Japan—

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, but I am talking about in China.

Mr Varghese : I was not at the Beijing final stop.

Senator FAULKNER: Okay. Was the Prime Minister accompanied by ministers to China?

Mr Varghese : In China he was accompanied by the Foreign Minister in Sanya, which was where the Boao Forum was being held and where the meeting with Premier Li Keqiang was held. In Shanghai he was accompanied by the Minister for Trade and Investment, who was leading a business delegation. I will just check with Mr Rowe whether any other ministers were present in Shanghai.

Mr Rowe : I think Mr Frydenberg accompanied him through most of the visit.

Mr Varghese : Yes, Parliamentary Secretary Mr Frydenberg.

Senator FAULKNER: Sorry, who were the ministers?

Mr Varghese : The foreign minister in Sanya, the trade and investment minister in Shanghai, and then the trade and investment minister took a business delegation to other parts of China.

Senator FAULKNER: Was there an official function hosted by the President of China in Beijing for the Prime Minister, as I understand it; is that correct?

Mr Varghese : It was a dinner hosted by President Xi Jinping.

Senator FAULKNER: A dinner hosted by President Xi in Beijing.

Mr Varghese : Yes.

Senator FAULKNER: Can you please outline to the committee who the Australian representatives at that dinner were? Who accompanied the Prime Minister to that dinner?

Mr Rowe : I might have to take that on notice. I was not in Beijing, so I just do not know offhand who they were.

Senator FAULKNER: Who makes the decision about who attends these sorts of functions?

Mr Varghese : It is the Prime Minister's Office that decides on representation at functions that the Prime Minister is the guest of honour.

Senator FAULKNER: So, in this particular instance is this a question I have to ask effectively at estimates for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet?

Mr Varghese : That would be more appropriate.

Senator FAULKNER: Were there any DFAT representatives at the function? I can at least ask that.

Mr Varghese : Is this now the Beijing dinner?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes.

Mr Varghese : In addition to embassy people?

Senator FAULKNER: You are saying that the function attendees is something determined by the Prime Minister's office; it is not something that is core business for DFAT. I accept that. You are unable to say, therefore, who did attend. I am now asking a follow-on question, whether you are able to say if there were any DFAT representatives at the dinner. Can anyone help me with that?

Mr Varghese : I think we will have to take that on notice over and above obviously the embassy representatives. I just need to confirm whether one of my deputy secretaries was there. I do not know for sure, but I think that was the case.

Senator FAULKNER: Sorry, did you say you do not know for sure, but you think that was the case?

Mr Varghese : That is right. I will need to confirm, so I will take it on notice.

Senator FAULKNER: I would appreciate, unless you can assist me, whether there were any changes to DFAT attendees at that dinner, too. Are you aware of any?

Mr Varghese : Any changes?

Senator FAULKNER: If there were any changes of personnel in relation to attendees at the dinner. I can only talk here about DFAT representatives. I appreciate that. I cannot ask you to speak on behalf of other portfolios. I was keen to understand whether there had been any changes. Firstly, I will ask whether anyone at the table is aware of that and, if you are not aware of it, I would ask you to take it on notice.

Mr Varghese : I am not aware of it, so we will take it on notice.

CHAIR: Where are we going? Have you finished, Senator Faulkner?

Senator FAULKNER: My questions there have been taken on notice, so where we are going is waiting for the answers to the question on notice in the fullness of time.

CHAIR: Shall we move on to another questioner?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: South-East Asia.

CHAIR: We are now doing South-East Asia, which includes Brunei, Myanmar, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, the ASEAN group of nations and the East Asia Summit. Senator Hanson-Young.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: As I have already flagged, I would like to ask questions around Cambodia. I know we have had a little bit of a chat, but this is the appropriate place, I assume, to go into any more detail if there is detail available. Firstly, I would just like to ask for the record: has the government approached the department for advice regarding the resettlement of asylum seekers and refugees in Cambodia?

Mr Varghese : I think you were absent from the room when our Ambassador for People Smuggling was taking the committee through where we are on Cambodia. The gist of it was that we are in discussions with the government of Cambodia on a possible resettlement arrangement. Obviously in the course of that the department provides advice to the government.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Are there officers within your department working specifically on that arrangement?

Mr Varghese : Our Ambassador for People Smuggling, who is at the table, has oversight of the department's involvement in those negotiations and leads them at officials level. He is supported by a small team in his office.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Just for my clarity, I asked questions in relation to the immigration department as well, and there is obviously an interconnection. How is it arranged in terms of the team that you have situated in DFAT and those within the immigration department or is it at this stage basically all housed within DFAT?

Mr Varghese : The team that works on the negotiations with Cambodia is comprised of representatives from both DFAT and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. The negotiations tend to be handled by a joint team led by our Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Who does the ambassador report to?

Mr Varghese : Within the department, the ambassador reports to me through a deputy secretary with responsibility for that part of the department. The Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues also works very closely with the joint action task force. It is a position that works with a number of other agencies.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But ultimately he reports to you?

Mr Varghese : That is correct.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the government given you a set budget to work within in terms of this arrangement?

Mr Varghese : The Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues has a budget to cover his responsibilities and whatever work we are doing on Cambodia that involves him is funded by that budget. That is a budget for travel, essentially—not just travel on this particular issue but also other issues.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But you have not been given a funding envelope for securing these types of arrangements; is that what you are suggesting to me?

Mr Varghese : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: When the foreign minister was in Cambodia on her visit, was the Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues in attendance?

Mr Varghese : I will check with the person in question.

Mr Chittick : No, I was not.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you visited Cambodia recently?

Mr Chittick : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can you enlighten the committee as to when that was?

Mr Chittick : Yes, I visited Cambodia three times this year: once in February, once in March and once in April.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But you were not there when the foreign minister was visiting?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is your prediction for how long these negotiations will take?

Mr Chittick : I do not have a prediction. We are working very cooperatively with Cambodian senior officials to ensure that we have an arrangement that is mutually beneficial for both governments. We have made some progress, but there is further work to be done, and I would also refer to Mr Morrison's public statements to the same.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In relation to how an arrangement could be funded, is there scope within the guidelines in relation to the aid budget to allow for that to be used for the resettlement of refugees?

Mr Varghese : I think it would all depend on the terms of whatever final agreement we reach with Cambodia, if we do reach a final agreement with Cambodia. The most appropriate sources of funding would depend on what the terms of the final agreement are. I think it is a bit premature to be ascribing particular funding to particular appropriations.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It is not out of the question that a deal could fall within the guidelines of overseas aid?

Mr Varghese : Any expenditure of aid money would need to be consistent with the guidelines on what is ODA-able, as they say. It would depend on whether the expenditure we were proposing to enter into met the guidelines or did not meet the guidelines and if the government took a decision that it was appropriate for it to be funded from the aid program, if that is what we are dealing with. We do not have an agreement, so I cannot give you any advice on where the money is coming from.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you been given a set of guidelines by which to try and work towards in terms of arrangements?

Mr Chittick : We are working in the context of instructions from the government, yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Does that include sticking within the guidelines of the ODA rules?

Mr Chittick : The elements that might apply for that have not been finalised, so it is difficult to assess whether they are or they are not.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have not been given that detail of guideline instructions?

Mr Chittick : We are working within normal government structures in terms of the guidelines and the rules of the aid program. If there are outcomes that are relevant to the aid program, they will be fully consistent with them.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can I just clarify just so that we are clear that there was, of course, money used within the aid budget in relation to the deal with PNG; is that correct?

Mr Varghese : The arrangement with PNG had a number of components. One was obviously the way in which the offshore centre would operate, and in parallel to that was an arrangement entered into by the previous government, which included some additional money on development assistance.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But effectively there was an argument that it could be legitimately spent within those ODA rules?

Mr Varghese : Again, it goes to the question of what is the purpose of the expenditure, and some of the expenditure may legitimately come under the aid budget and some expenditure may fall outside of the aid budget and may need to be found from other sources.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have there been any specifics in terms of the amount of money discussed with Cambodia thus far?

Mr Chittick : That is a subject of ongoing discussions that relate to diplomatic dialogue between governments. I do not think it is helpful to discuss those here.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So, you cannot say whether there is any truth to the rumour of the $40 million per 100 people?

Mr Chittick : No, we have ongoing discussions. Those discussions have not been finalised. Once they are finalised, the details of the arrangement will be known.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Can I just be very clear, who is leading the negotiations? Is that yourself or is it happening within the task force and the immigration department?

Mr Chittick : As the secretary mentioned, we very much work on a whole-of-government basis. There is a whole-of-government team that involves staff from DFAT, from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and also the Attorney-General's Department, and we have a group that works from the Canberra end on developing our approach to this arrangement. A subset of that group travels to Cambodia to have face-to-face discussions.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So, you would ultimately say that you are responsible for the negotiations, with your team behind you?

Mr Chittick : I think that would be ministerial and secretary's expectation, yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has Cambodia given any indication as to the requirements beyond monetary that they would need in terms of resourcing to host refugees that are sent there?

Mr Chittick : The Cambodian government has been very public in its support for the concept of settling people who are refugees in Cambodia. Again, I think they are on the public record as having welcomed the approach from Australia and the engagement that we are undertaking with them. We both have very strong interests in making any arrangement work properly, and we will make sure that appropriate mechanisms are put in place to ensure that any arrangement is effectively implemented. That includes resourcing.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Does the task force or the working group running this have an idea of how many people would need to be transferred to ensure that the arrangement had a significant impact on the flow of asylum seekers?

Mr Chittick : We are still discussing the key elements of the arrangement, and so should there be a number associated with this arrangement that will not be finalised until we finalise the text.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I understand that, but my point is more of a preparedness one, I guess. Has there been modelling or evidence analysed to guide your work as to how many people would need to be transferred to ensure that it had any significant impact? I am not asking for the number; I am just asking to know whether that type of thought and modelling has been done.

Mr Chittick : We are working with a party to the refugees convention that has had some experience in accepting refugees. We will work very closely with them to identify numbers that we can make work and that we can ensure that the key objectives of this arrangement from both sides are achieved, but we do not have specific numbers in mind. We are looking for an ongoing relationship with Cambodia.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That was going to be my next question, actually. Is it foreseen that this would be an ongoing arrangement; that this is not just a one-off?

Mr Chittick : Again, we are in ongoing discussions about the key elements of the arrangement. Certainly, we are keen to have a successful arrangement with Cambodia and one in which we can assist them in settling a number of refugees over, preferably, a number of years.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You mentioned that you have been in discussions with the Cambodian government. Has there been any discussion or attempt to speak to the opposition in Cambodia, who have been publicly, at least, critical?

Mr Chittick : We are engaged in a government-to-government discussion. The Australian government also has a wide range of discussions with politicians in Cambodia from the government and the opposition side, but the specific negotiations on this arrangement are between the Australian and Cambodian governments.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You mentioned that there is a key objective and whether that fits into the guidelines under the aid budget or would need to be funded elsewhere. Can you identify for us what that key objective is?

Mr Chittick : Ministers have been very clear. Minister Morrison has been on the public record on a number of occasions highlighting that some of the key elements of this deal are to ensure that people who are found to be refugees on Nauru are provided with appropriate places for settlement. That is a key one. There is also a strong interest in working with convention partners, so states like Cambodia that are parties to the refugee convention, to expand the number of settlement places both regionally and globally. There are a limited number of state parties to the refugee convention in our region. We are very keen to work with Cambodia, which is both party to the convention but also a very valuable member of the Bali process. We are keen to work with them to expand their capacity to undertake settlement of refugees.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The minister announced that the government was informing the UNHCR of the fact that the negotiations were happening and elements of the arrangement. Who led that consultation or information flow to the UNHCR? Is that yourself?

Mr Chittick : The Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection advised Senate estimates last week that he had met with UNHCR in Geneva in early May and had contact there. We have similar contact between Australian officials and UNHCR representatives on the ground around the region.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you met with UNHCR directly in relation to this arrangement?

Mr Chittick : I have met with the regional representative responsible for Australia, yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What has been their response?

Mr Chittick : I would not wish to discuss the contents of that discussion. I would rather say that we have a commitment to be engaged with UNHCR on this, as does Cambodia. We are undertaking that consultation at all levels, from very senior levels in Geneva down to regional representatives located around our region.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There has obviously been quite a bit of commentary about the human rights record of Cambodia and issues that the country faces. You mentioned needing to find an appropriate place to resettle refugees as the key objective. What issues have you considered in relation to protection of human rights in Cambodia to determine whether Cambodia is an appropriate place?

Senator Brandis: That is a question that I will take because it is really a question to government. The most important thing that you need to understand is that Cambodia is a party to the refugee convention. There is no specific evidence, indeed no evidence at all, that the persons who may be resettled in Cambodia would face political persecution in Cambodia. I know because of terrible events in the 1970s when one thinks of Cambodia one reflects that historically that country has had a terrible human rights record, but those events were many years ago and Cambodia, with the assistance of Australia and other friendly powers, is trying to establish itself as a modern, well-governed nation. I do not think we should allow our historical memory to prejudice our thinking in dealing with the Cambodian government.

Might I remind you, because you have not adverted to it in your questions, that the test under the refugee convention is whether or not there exists a well-founded fear of persecution on political or religious grounds. It is not a test of whether or not the country where resettlement is sought is economically prosperous. It is not a test of whether the country is the place of first preference of the refugee. It is sufficient that the fear of persecution which is found to have existed in the country from which the refugee has fled is not present in the country where it is proposed that the refugee will be resettled. There is no evidence that I am aware of that the basis which would make any country unsuitable for refugee resettlement, namely the existence of well-founded fear of persecution on the specified grounds, is currently in existence in Cambodia.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I will pull you up on the fact that UNHCR have clearly said and warned, in fact, that resettlement countries are obliged to deliver other things to people other than just safety.

Senator Brandis: Australia's obligations—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I do not want to get into an argument with you now about whether Australia is upholding our refugee convention, because clearly we are not.

Senator Brandis: I do not want to get into an argument with you but you have asked a question and I am answering it.

CHAIR: Give the minister a bit of space, Senator.

Senator Brandis: Australia's obligations under the refugee convention are to be complied with the refugee convention.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Which we are not.

Senator Brandis: They are not obligations to the UNHCR. They are not obligations to do anything other than be compliant with the refugee convention. There is no breach of the refugee convention in proposing the resettlement of refugees in a country where they are not subject to the persecution for fear of which they have fled their original country.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The convention also references access to education and basic elements to be able to feed, clothe, work and house yourself. It is not just about persecution. Putting that aside, if I could go back to—

Senator Brandis: That is the condition on which a person is able to be assessed to be a refugee.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I just read to you the UNHCR's own statement.

Senator Brandis: Like a lot of people who are not lawyers, you do not seem to understand.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Why don't you give us a lesson.

Senator Brandis: The law is what the statute or the courts say it is. It is not what commentators might say it is. It is not what officials or you and committees might say it is. The law is set out in the convention itself and the body of judicial interpretation—

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: If you want to have an argument on all the elements that Australia is breaching the refugee convention on then I am more than happy to do that, but today here is not the space and I would like to get on with questions.

Senator Brandis: I do not want you to ask your questions to these officials on a false premise.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: It is not a false premise. You are the one who has decided to take up time in this committee to assert your own view of the convention and Australia's obligations.

Senator Brandis: I am just telling you what the convention says.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have not.

Senator Brandis: What the convention says is what the convention says, not what the UNHCR says. The UNHCR is entitled to its view about the meaning of the convention. It tends to take an expansive view. What the UNHCR say is not definitive of what the convention means.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How to win friends and make enemies, I guess. Let us continue moving on.

Senator Brandis: We are trying to make a friend of Cambodia, which is a country struggling to become a prosperous democratic nation.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I will pull you up on one thing. Obviously there are elements of people's concern about the human rights track record in Cambodia because of past activities and events. My concern is more in relation to what the US State Department said as early as 2012 in relation to accusations of torture, shock torture, whippings and canings. They are the type of activities that the US State Department is saying as early as 2012 are going on in Cambodia. How do we know that a deal to send, particularly women and girls to Cambodia—how can we guarantee that they are going to be safe there? That is a question to the Ambassador for People Smuggling. How can you guarantee it anywhere?

Senator Brandis: It is not Australia's obligation to guarantee anything. It is Australia's obligation to be compliant with the refugee convention. Cambodia is a state which is a party to the refugee convention and it assumes the obligations that the refugee convention imposes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Australia has not been sticking by the convention for a long, long time. Are we concerned at all about these reports from the US State Department and Amnesty International in terms of the human rights record of Cambodia, or is that just simply not being considered in your negotiations?

Mr Cox : Regarding the human rights situation in Cambodia, as Senator Brandis said, I think we have seen conditions improve, certainly since the 1990s. We have seen conditions in Cambodia improve year over year. That does not mean that the situation is by any means perfect. I think the situation in Cambodia in terms of human rights and in terms of the role of media, NGOs, outside observers including the UN, special rapporteur and so forth is quite transparent. Yes, there are still problems with human rights.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You mean people can see how bad it is?

Mr Cox : There are still problems with human rights but these are being brought to light and I think, as a result of that, we can say the system is improving slowly step by step.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I will take that as the response in relation to my concerns. What other countries have you been visiting to speak to about their involvement in a regional type of arrangement?

Mr Chittick : Most of my time this year has been focused on Cambodia and most of the rest of this year will be focused on Cambodia as well. We have a lot of work to do over a period of time—and I cannot be clear about how long that will take to reach that outcome—and then our focus will turn to implementation issues.

The other area where there has been a great deal of focus has been on ensuring that the settlement activities and the settlement framework in Papua New Guinea is an effective one. Papua New Guinea has recently handed down the first of its refugee status determinations, as has Nauru, and we are looking to work with Papua New Guinea to ensure that the settlement of people from Manus Island is undertaken in an effective manner.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: In August last year the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands confirmed that they had been approached by Australia and admittedly in those reports it said in an informal way as a kind of heads-up that Australia was going to seek the Solomon Islands's support for a resettlement deal. Has there been any further discussion with the Solomon Islands since August last year?

Mr Chittick : I think those comments related to processing of asylum seekers. No, there has been no approach to the Solomon Islands.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: No discussions in relation to resettlement at all?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Have you visited the Solomon Islands recently?

Mr Chittick : No, not recently.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Since you have taken on your role?

Mr Chittick : I have visited the Solomon Islands in 2013.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Was that before or after August?

Mr Chittick : I would have to look at my diary but it would have been around August.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: And you have not been this year?

Mr Chittick : I have not been since then.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What about Thailand or Vietnam? Have you spoken to either of those countries?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Malaysia?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: There is no discussion with Malaysia at all about the issue of asylum seekers and the movement of refugees?

Mr Chittick : There is a very deep engagement and discussion with Malaysia around a range of counter people smuggling issues, but the government has not had a discussion with Malaysia about processing or resettlement.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Fiji?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Laos?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The Philippines?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Vanuatu?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: East Timor?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What about New Zealand?

Mr Chittick : New Zealand made a commitment last year, as I recall, to settling 150 persons per year. I do not think that has been implemented and I have certainly not been there.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: You have not met with them specifically? That is not part of your brief at this stage?

Mr Chittick : No.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: When was the New Zealand thing done? What month and what year?

Mr Chittick : It was concluded under the previous government.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Is your view with this Cambodia arrangement that it is more so a bilateral arrangement between Australia and Cambodia, or is Nauru actually at the negotiating table as well? Is it trilateral?

Mr Chittick : The engagement so far has been between Australia and Cambodia. That is relevant because it relates to the voluntary movement of people from Nauru to Cambodia. That has been a principle that ministers from both Cambodia and Australia have articulated. At this stage there is no formal Nauru involvement in this arrangement. I would note that there is an explicit reference in Australia's memorandum of understanding with Cambodia in which Australia committed to identify settlement places for those people who are found to be refugees by the Nauru government.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Why are people being chosen from Nauru? What is the rationale for that rather than Papua New Guinea or people that are here in Australia?

Mr Chittick : I think it relates to the commitments that Australia made to both countries on the establishment of the settlement processes in both countries. Papua New Guinea, as recently as last month, has provided a commitment to settle all of those who are found to be refugees by Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea is a much bigger place than Nauru. There was a recognition when the memorandum of understanding was negotiated with Nauru that we would need to find alternative locations for settlement, and that is one of the rationales in terms of Cambodia.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Will there be different arrangements depending on whether people are single men, families, children, or is it seen as one size fits all?

Mr Chittick : There will be a range of complex issues in terms of the implementation of any arrangement. We are very mindful of the mix of people who will be found to be refugees on Nauru. There are discussions on the full range of issues that are ongoing. Once we have an agreement we will be able to release the information on that. This will be an ongoing endeavour and will be implemented over a number of years.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What about unaccompanied minors? Is it an understanding that unaccompanied minors would be involved in this transfer?

Mr Chittick : That is one of the many issues that are being discussed and we do not have the final outcome on those discussions. It is only once we have finalised those discussions that we will be able to talk about them publicly.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So you cannot rule out unaccompanied minors being transferred to Cambodia?

Mr Chittick : I am just saying that we have not yet finalised our discussions on the full range of issues.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So unaccompanied minors are part of the current discussion? They are either on the table or they are not. I am asking whether they are not on the table?

Mr Chittick : I cannot confirm or deny any particular element of it. Once we have got the final deal, should we get a final deal, at that point we will be able to talk about the full range of issues.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: What is the unemployment rate in Cambodia?

Mr Cox : Which rate?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: The unemployment rate?

Mr Cox : We would have to take that on notice.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could you take that on notice?

Mr Cox : Yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Could you also take on notice the unemployment rate of Nauru and Papua New Guinea?

Mr Cox : Sure.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you.

CHAIR: Senator Kroger has some quick questions.

Senator KROGER: I have two very quick questions with the indulgence of the committee because I have got to go back into another committee. The first question is a follow-up to a question that was raised during estimates last week to PM&C. It was a question that related to the DFAT website which referred to Australia's Ambassador to Myanmar instead of Burma. There was a question to Ms Wood, First Assistant Secretary, asking if there was any reason why there was a delay of some significant months since the Prime Minister had requested a name change there, acknowledging that we wished to change the name to Burma.

Now, I have checked websites. I see the Smartraveller website that is advising travellers with various information actually notes Burma and in brackets Myanmar but I understand that in relation to the other website, as of close of business 3 June last night that had still not been changed, notwithstanding the fact that there had been a request yet again through PM&C estimates last week. Can you give me an update, Mr Varghese, on that?

Mr Varghese : I will defer to others on the website because I am not sure of exactly what is on it at the moment. On nomenclature, policy now is to use both Burma and Myanmar depending on the circumstances. When we deal with the government in Yangon we use the term Myanmar because that is the name that the government of Myanmar uses for its own country. When we engage in discussions with ASEAN countries, for instance, but other countries in the region also who have a clear preference for and usage of Myanmar, we use the term Myanmar. When we talk about the country domestically or when we talk about the country with other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States that use the terminology Burma, we use Burma. It varies according to the context as to what we use.

I do not know if I caught this correctly, but our Ambassador to Myanmar would be our Ambassador to Myanmar because the country to which he is accredited is Myanmar in the eyes of the government of Myanmar.

Senator KROGER: Let me get this straight. There was a directive from the Prime Minister in relation to this foreign policy matter and in the way in which we seek to acknowledge and honour the country. So, you are saying that the Prime Minister's word does not amount to anything? There was a directive last November. I am just confused here.

Mr Varghese : I am certainly not saying that the word of the Prime Minister does not amount to anything. I am saying I think we are faithfully implementing the policy changes that had been approved by the Prime Minister.

Senator KROGER: Could you take on notice to look into this?

Mr Varghese : In relation particularly to the website?

Senator KROGER: Because it has been brought up a number of times. It certainly was brought up last year in November. It has been followed up but it seems to have gone nowhere. It was followed up again last week in estimates in Finance and Public Administration. It would be great to bring it to some conclusion, and I am sure that you are the man who could do that.

Mr Varghese : I will certainly follow up on that unless any of my colleagues at the table—

Mr Cox : I can only re-emphasise what the secretary has said that the guidelines provide for the use of the term Myanmar or government of Myanmar when we are working with or talking to or advocating with that government. In this case on the website I think you are referring to our ambassador in Burma. Her formal title is Ambassador to the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar because that is what the people in Burma call their country. That is consistent with the guidelines even though there is obviously the use of both the terms Burma and Myanmar there. It is consistent to use both in the different contexts in which they are being used, as the secretary set out for you.

Mr Varghese : I can clarify. We think we are implementing the guidelines. Are you suggesting that the website should say that our Ambassador to Myanmar should be the Ambassador to Burma?

Senator KROGER: No. What I am suggesting is that there have been communications from the Prime Minister's office. If you look at Hansard from last week you will see that there was an open-ended outcome there, so to speak, and I was just seeking your assistance to bring some resolution to this matter. As I said, I am happy to put it on notice as to whether we can find some resolution. It was with the indulgence, secretary, of everybody here that I could bump myself up to the top of the list so I do not want to labour the goodwill of my committee members.

I have one final question in the same region. My pet hobby horse, as you know, is looking up the Smartraveller website and I noticed that Brunei has introduced sharia law. I think it was on 22 April that it introduced sharia law. Now, I looked up that website earlier on today and I do not know that I have got the right piece of paper here, but the last time that it was updated was late March. I do not have the date in front of me but I think it was late March because you know how it says when the latest update is actually on the website. It speaks prospectively of the imminent introduction of sharia law and how that may or may not apply whether to Muslims or non-Muslims. Given that it has been introduced on 22 April I was wondering if you were working on updating that with the nature of the sharia law that has been introduced there and how that is applying?

Mr Varghese : I will ask Mr Brown, the head of our consular operations, if he can answer that.

Mr Brown : We update our travel advisories every three or six months, depending on the destination. With the Brunei one—and I do not have it in front of me when it was last updated—but I would expect that it will be done soon, particularly with such a significant change in the situation on the ground.

Senator KROGER: I make the point because it is a pretty significant change. I do not know the number of Australian tourists to the country but it is something pretty significant that I think everybody would want to know about and should know about if they are travelling there.

Mr Cox : I should clarify that the first phase of the sharia law was introduced on 1 May this year. The first phase includes very general and milder offences covered and fines and imprisonments. The second and third phases will be introduced over periods of 12 and 24 months which would include some of the more serious offences and punishments that are envisaged, including corporal and capital punishments. At this stage we are not into the more serious end of the offence and punishment spectrum in the introduction of the law.

Senator KROGER: Thank you very much. You are more up to date. They obviously delayed the introduction again because it was 1 April and then delayed to the 22nd and clearly introduced on 1 May.

Mr Cox : It will start on 1 May.

CHAIR: What has driven this introduction of sharia law? Has there been a political change in the government?

Mr Cox : That is not completely clear. I think that certainly this was brought down in a speech by the Sultan of Brunei last year. He announced that these changes would be made. Brunei, as you know, is an Islamic monarchy and has been since its independence. There has been a sharia court in Brunei for many years applying sharia family law and other aspects of sharia law but not sharia criminal law. I can only assume that this was a decision of the Sultan on recommendation of his various advisers, his religious and non-religious advisers, and a decision that he made based on his own assessment of political, social and other currents in his own country.

CHAIR: They are not receiving aid from some Gulf country like Saudi Arabia or something like that?

Mr Cox : Brunei does not need any aid. It is one of the wealthiest countries per capita in the world.

CHAIR: Yes, I understand they are very wealthy, but I wondered if that might have been a factor, some sort of association with some of the other countries which do practise sharia law.

Mr Cox : There are quite close links between Brunei's religious authorities and religious authorities in countries like Saudi Arabia, so there could be dialogue between them but I am not privy to that analysis. I do not know that.

Senator FAWCETT: My understanding is that Brunei has signed up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Is that correct?

Mr Cox : Yes, I believe it has.

Senator FAWCETT: Has Australia questioned them at all about the contradiction between this first phase, let alone the others, where you can be jailed for not attending a prayer session against Article 18 of the Human Rights Declaration?

Mr Cox : Our high commissioner in Brunei Darussalam has raised the issue with a range of authorities, including senior religious affairs authorities, foreign ministry authorities and other authorities of the government to quiz them about the application of the law and some of the rationales behind it to question it in the context of both regional and international human rights norms. We, alongside many other countries, have done so in Bandar Seri Begawan.

Senator FAWCETT: Are there responses to those inquiries that can be tabled for the committee?

Mr Cox : Basically the responses are that the Brunei government says that this is its sovereign right to do this and that it is consistent with its own domestic law and practice. It is fully cognisant of its international obligations, but it will carry out its laws according to its own writ. It says that it is listening to international opinion but at the same time it is not going to be dissuaded from implementing these laws consistent with its own domestic, legal and cultural framework.

Senator FAWCETT: It is also a member of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation?

Mr Cox : The Organisation of Islamic Conference, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: I think it is now called Cooperation. It did have a name change.

Mr Cox : OIC, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: My understanding, and I am happy to be corrected here, is that they have their own version which is almost word for word for the Declaration of Human Rights but with a subtext that says in the context of sharia law. Is that correct to your understanding?

Mr Cox : I would have to take that one on notice. I am not specifically aware of the OIC's derivation of international human rights laws.

Senator FAWCETT: Can you take that on notice?

Mr Cox : Yes.

Senator FAWCETT: I would be interested to understand what that means in terms of things like Article 18 and religious freedom, but also particularly gender equality in countries. They could be using the same words that we do but have a completely different understanding of what that means in practice to individuals.

Mr Cox : Yes. We can take that on notice and get a response back to you on that.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you. Clearly events in Sudan recently, as others have mentioned, have raised some concern about the practical outworkings of that system.

Mr Cox : This is what we have been pointing out to the Bruneians, our concern about the consistency of this emerging legal regime with international law and practice and also the perceptions of Brunei in global and regional councils.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do we give Australians travelling to Brunei some sort of one-page account of the difference between sharia law and Australian law? How do we alert people to this?

Mr Cox : Mr Brown might have to clarify that.

Mr Brown : The primary mechanism for informing Australians of the conditions on the ground in other countries is our Smartraveller website, smartraveller.gov.au. For example, in relation to Brunei, as I indicated earlier, there is quite a detailed section on how sharia law manifests itself including, for example, in relation to offences for possession of drugs or trafficking of drugs that attracts a death penalty in Brunei and some of the practical implications of the application of sharia law. But more generally the Smartraveller site includes a lot of detailed information on laws, safety and security conditions and entry and exit formalities for more than 160 destinations.

Mr Varghese : If I could just add to what Mr Cox said in relation to Australian representations on sharia law in response to a question that Senator Fawcett asked. On 2 May at the UN in Geneva we delivered a statement recommending that Brunei implement its domestic laws, including a sharia penal code, in line with international human rights standards, including with respect to religious tolerance, the status of women and the rights of the LGBT community. We further recommended that Brunei refrain, absolutely, from implementing the harsher punishments under the code, noting Australia's longstanding opposition to the death penalty and all forms of corporal punishment. So in addition to what we have done directly with Brunei, we have also taken a position in the UN.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I just have my last questions from before I handed over to Senator Kroger. In relation to the arrangement with Cambodia the minister has said that people will only be going if they are willing and, given that one of the reasons for needing to do this is that Nauru, as we have just learnt here, is not able to host everybody, what percentage of people do we think will be willing to go?

Mr Chittick : We do not know. That will be a decision for each individual to make. You are right, in that the immigration minister has made it clear on a number of occasions now that voluntary settlement in Cambodia will be a key aspect of this agreement.

Senator Brandis: You are getting a bit ahead of yourself, Senator. The agreement with Cambodia has not been finalised, as I think the official made clear. We hope that it will be but it has not yet been. I think if and when the agreement is finalised will be the time to invite people currently on Nauru to indicate their interest in being resettled there.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: That is fair enough. I accept that. As part of your role as the Ambassador for People Smuggling in looking across the region, what contingencies have been put in place or is there any contingency that has been put in place for people who say they will not go?

Mr Chittick : Nauru has arrangements in place for people to settle there for a period of up to five years when we are working with Cambodia.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Who in your department is responsible for overseeing the $370-odd million that was referenced earlier regarding the cross-regional program that I think Senator Dastyari was asking about?

Mr Varghese : The overall aid budget is handled at different levels because we are now an integrated department and our geographic divisions deal with the aid programs in their countries. With the cross-regional one I will ask Mr McDonald because he has probably the best and broadest understanding of the details of the aid program.

Mr McDonald : As part of the integration the geographic parts of the budget have been integrated into those geographic areas. There are other aspects of the budget around global programs or sectoral programs that are still managed centrally, so it will depend on which particular aspect of the program you wish us to comment on.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am talking about the extra $370 million that has been allocated within the cross-regional program.

Mr McDonald : In terms of the cross-regional program, that was raised earlier and we took that on notice. We talked about some of the aspects of that. The cross-regional program, for example, has the Global Scholarships program.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I am trying to work out who in the department is responsible?

Senator DASTYARI: The scholarships?

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Who in the department is responsible? I understand the idea of the geographical break-up, but this falls outside of that. I am trying to work out who is responsible within your department for that?

Mr McDonald : The scholarships program is handled within Mr Tranter's division.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But that extra $370 million is not all for scholarships.

Mr McDonald : No. It has a whole range of activities in it. For example, the gender activities would be handled from within our gender area, so depending on the activity as to where that part of the budget is managed within the agency.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has there been any direction to the department to quarantine any of that money?

Mr McDonald : No.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: So it is all allocated?

Mr McDonald : It is allocated to the cross-regional program by the government, yes.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: But within the cross-regional program. I know you have taken some of this on notice. What I am asking is: has there been any direction from government in relation to where that money should be spent, other than what it has been used for in previous years?

Mr McDonald : As we discussed earlier, the cross-regional allocation was decided by government and within that there are various aspects of it. I gave earlier an example where a replenishment is within that program and until that replenishment is complete then that is not allocated within, for example, the Health budget. There is no direction to quarantine aspects of that program, it just covers a range of cross-regional activity across the agency.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Picking up on Senator Dastyari's point, could it be used in relation to Cambodia if the deal was to fit within those rules of the ODA?

Mr McDonald : I think this was answered earlier by the secretary in saying that the government can allocate or reallocate funding, but that has not occurred in relation to cross-regional programs, so it does not have aspects of it for Cambodia, no.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: How are the activities within that cross-regional program decided? Who puts forward the proposals? Is that done prior to budget each year? Is there a unit within your department that does that? What is the accountability process for making sure that money is spent where government wants it to be spent?

Mr McDonald : The allocation is done by government, as I said earlier, in relation to that aspect of the program. It is then overseen by our finance area, CFO area, in relation to that expenditure within that cross-regional program, or any of our programs for that matter, and there is reporting as you go through the year in relation to that.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Has the government given you a list of things that they want that program to be spent on for this financial year?

Mr McDonald : I have taken that question on notice earlier from Senator Dastyari to provide the clarity.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I thought you had taken on notice what you think things might be spent on. I am asking whether the government has given you that list as yet seeing that it is their decision.

Mr McDonald : It is their decision to allocate the money to cross-regional. There are components within that cross-regional program and that is what I took on notice. I said this morning, from my memory, things like scholarships and gender were included in that program. Replenishments for the GAVI coming later this year is also included. I took on notice to provide the committee with the components of that cross-regional program.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Why was the money doubled? Was that on advice from the department to government that things were going to be more expensive in this budget? Who made the decision to double the money and on what basis?

Mr McDonald : The decisions on the budget are made by the government.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: I understand that. Was there advice given that the costs under the program, as it had currently been operating, were going to grow?

Mr McDonald : The components of any of our cross-regional programs will change each year depending on what components are due for payment within that financial year. A good example is really a multilateral fund of some kind that has a payment due within that year but does not have it due in another year. That will change from year to year.

Senator HANSON-YOUNG: Thank you.

Senator MADIGAN: Good afternoon, gentlemen. I have a few questions on West Papua. I was wondering if you can inform the committee of what aid projects are currently funded by the Australian government in the West Papuan provinces?

Mr Cox : I will ask Ms Corcoran to come and assist in answering that question.

Ms Corcoran : Would you mind repeating the question please?

Senator MADIGAN: What aid projects are currently funded by the Australian government in the West Papuan province?

Ms Corcoran : At the moment we are providing a range of aid programs. In 2012-13 we spent approximately $22 million on aid programs in the Papuan provinces. Some of those are delivered specifically to those provinces and some of those are programs that have elements in Papuan provinces and elements in the rest of Indonesia. Just to take you through the details of those, through the Clinton Health Access Initiative, CHAI, we are addressing the high rates of HIV in the Papuan provinces. The program is providing HIV testing services and treats more than 20,000 people living with HIV. The program is running through 2012-13 to 2015-16.

In the education sector we have provided 225 scholarships to applicants from West Papua for post-graduate study in Australia since 1999. We are working with UNICEF over 2010 to 2013 and with local governments to improve primary education in six districts, improving planning and literacy and numeracy teaching in schools.

In disaster risk reduction we are also partnering it with the Australian Red Cross and Oxfam, helping district governments in those provinces and local Red Cross branches and communities to prepare for natural disasters.

We are supporting the Indonesian government's program for community empowerment in the Papuan provinces which provides small grants to communities to build vital infrastructure in the provinces. Through our Australia-Indonesian Partnership for Rural Development, which is AIPD Rural, we are also helping to increase the incomes of poor farmers, including in Papua and West Papua provinces.

Senator MADIGAN: Could you take on notice to provide the committee with what current health and education statistics are available for the West Papuan province?

Ms Corcoran : I can take that on notice.

Senator MADIGAN: Does DFAT fund any human rights NGOs in West Papua, and which ones are they if you do?

Ms Corcoran : I am not aware of that so I will have to take that on notice as well.

Senator MADIGAN: Moving onto Timor-Leste. I believe that currently Australia is involved in two legal cases with Timor-Leste. What impact have these legal cases had on Australia's relations with Timor-Leste?

Mr Varghese : We have sought to handle these two cases within the context of a bilateral relationship which remains a strong relationship. Clearly because we are in court we have a very different set of positions on the issues and we will have to see where those two cases end up, but it is a factor in the bilateral relationship. That is clearly the case but it does not mean that we do not continue to have a very strong and close relationship with East Timor.

Senator MADIGAN: Has Timor-Leste expressed any frustration with the current or previous governments' proceedings in the international courts?

Mr Varghese : We are engaged in litigation with them, so they may well express frustration. I am not aware of any direct representations to us that reflect frustration, but it would come with the territory.

Senator MADIGAN: In 2011 I believe the Timor-Leste government rejected the Chinese government's request to build a base in Timor-Leste. Did that concern the department?

Mr Varghese : The fact that they rejected the request?

Senator MADIGAN: Were you concerned about the Chinese requesting to build a base in East Timor?

Mr Varghese : Ultimately questions of East Timor's foreign and security policy are matters for East Timor. Our position on all of these issues is the importance of any initiatives and proposals to be entirely transparent. We do not make a decision for Timor-Leste about their dealings with other countries, that is a matter for them and the other country.

Mr Cox : Timor-Leste has received assistance from China over the years. The presidential palace was built for them by China, as was the foreign ministry. I think the normal development of relations between Timor-Leste and China, as with relations between China and the rest of the region generally, is something that is a matter for Timor, as the secretary says, but generally we welcome Timor-Leste building positive relations with foreign states.

Senator MADIGAN: So the department is not concerned that China was looking to build a base there?

Mr Varghese : I do not think that it was a proposal that really got into a lot of detail. To the extent that it did not get anywhere and it did not have any detail to begin with, I do not think it was something which we would necessarily have had to give a lot of policy attention to.

Senator MADIGAN: Previously our relationship with Indonesia was based on the Barwick theory, the Lombok Treaty and the JSCOT findings. What is the guiding principle now for the department with our relationship with Indonesia?

Mr Varghese : The Lombok Treaty is still a very important element, at least in terms of the formal relationship between Australia and Indonesia, but the overall framework within which we operate is that the relationship with Indonesia is one of our most important relationships. It has an important economic trade and investment dimension, a very important geopolitical and security dimension and an expanding people-to-people dimension. Indonesia is an important partner of us in regional institutions and works with us multilaterally, so it is a relationship in many dimensions, all of which are very important and underpinned by the fact that we are neighbours, that we both seek to have a comprehensive strategic partnership and that we are both democracies.

Senator MADIGAN: Do you believe that human rights issues on the ground in West Papua have improved in the past 12 months?

Mr Varghese : I think the trend with human rights in Papua over an extended period of time has clearly been positive. If you compare the human rights situation in the Papuan provinces today with what they were 10 years ago there is a marked improvement. There continue to be human rights concerns and in our dialogue with Indonesia we address those issues and encourage them to address them. I think under President Yudhoyono the official approach to Papua has shown a very high degree of commitment to ensuring the development of the province and also to improving the human rights situation.

Senator MADIGAN: Are you able to enlighten the committee as to access to West Papua for the media and/or human rights watch organisations?

Mr Varghese : Mr Cox may want to add to this. We have raised this with Indonesia. We have encouraged them to provide greater access to the media. I think they have taken some steps to do that. In fact, I think very recently an SBS journalist has made a visit to the Papuan provinces. Mr Cox may have more details.

Mr Cox : Beyond journalists, our own ambassador was most recently there in November last year and we have teams of officials from the embassy visiting regularly. As the secretary says, we had groups in February. We had groups of officials going in March. I think Mark Davis of SBS Dateline was there recently as well, as was seen on television last night. I think there are restrictions on access of journalists. It is not easy to get access, but we continue to advocate for larger and wider access and for more transparency about the situation in the provinces.

Senator MADIGAN: Thank you.

Senator XENOPHON: I have some follow-up questions in relation to Senator Madigan's line of questioning if I may have the call.

CHAIR: Yes, you may have the call.

Senator XENOPHON: I will just go to the secretary of the department. There are two disputes between Australia and Timor-Leste at the moment, one before the International Court of Justice and the other before an arbitration panel. Is that correct?

Mr Varghese : That is right.

Senator XENOPHON: Could you just outline for clarity—and I am not suggesting that you have not been clear—what is being disputed before the International Court of Justice and before the arbitration panels?

Mr Varghese : I will ask our senior legal adviser, Ms Cooper, to address questions relating to the cases.

Ms Cooper : You are quite right that there are two cases on foot at the moment with East Timor. One is in the International Court of Justice and the other one is in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In the first it relates to the seizure of some documents. That is the ICJ case by ASIO. There have been some provisional measures in relation to that. The ICJ has issued provisional measures in that and there will be a substantive hearing later in the year. The second is an arbitration that relates specifically to the validity of what is known as the CMATS Treaty.

Senator XENOPHON: In relation to the arbitration—

Senator Brandis: I am sorry to interrupt you, but for that reason, that is that there are two sets of pending proceedings at the moment, you will understand that there is very little that we are able to say about the matters that are the subject of the dispute.

Senator XENOPHON: Attorney, sometimes I am happy with very little. I will just continue asking questions. I am sure I will be pulled up if there is an issue by yourself or the Chair. This does not relate to the dispute and I am mindful of what you said. Is the arbitration before the international court or what was the terminology?

Ms Cooper : It is the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Senator XENOPHON: The Permanent Court of Arbitration?

Ms Cooper : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: I always worry about something being called permanent. Is it before that body rather than the International Court of Justice, because Australia withdrew from the maritime jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice back in 2002?

Ms Cooper : No, that is not right.

Senator Brandis: Perhaps I should take these questions.

Senator XENOPHON: Yes. I am very happy for you to do that.

Senator Brandis: I have been very closely involved with this in recent months. There is a dispute resolution mechanism and under that dispute resolution mechanism in the treaty any dispute is resolved before an arbitral tribunal, not the ICJ.

Senator XENOPHON: So it has nothing to do with Australia withdrawing from the maritime jurisdiction?

Senator Brandis: The reason it is before the arbitral tribunal rather than the ICJ is that the dispute resolution mechanism in the treaty provides that that is where disputes are resolved and that is the provision that has been invoked.

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you for clarifying that. I understand these are significant disputes with significant issues at stake. Is the government able to indicate in broad terms or to take on notice how much has been spent on litigating both the matter before the ICJ and the matter before the Permanent Court of Arbitration?

Senator Brandis: I will take that on notice. As you rightly say, these are fairly significant issues and there are a lot of lawyers involved. I will take on notice how much has been expended on legal fees.

Senator XENOPHON: I am happy for that. If you can also indicate both departmental time and external lawyers?

Senator Brandis: For you, Senator Xenophon, I will extend that to include the Attorney-General's Department officials even though this is not the Attorney-General's estimates. For you I will not take a pedantic point about this being asked in the wrong estimates.

Senator XENOPHON: Pedantry and law are not a bad combination sometimes. There is a reason for it, but I am grateful you will not get that point. I would like to go to the issue in relation to the ex-ASIS officer known as Witness K. Is the government able to advise whether his passport has been confiscated?

Senator Brandis: I am not going to be saying anything about Witness K.

Senator XENOPHON: Is there any impediment on Witness K attending to be a witness at the arbitration?

Senator Brandis: I am not going to be saying anything about Witness K.

Senator XENOPHON: Can I ask Ms Cooper, with the Permanent Court of Arbitration, whether there is a provision procedurally, for instance, for evidence to be taken by video link?

Ms Cooper : I could not answer that.

Senator Brandis: That is able to be done.

Senator XENOPHON: So even if Witness K's passport was confiscated—and I know you cannot tell me whether it was or not—the issue of Witness K being able to give evidence is not a live issue if it can be done via video link?

Senator Brandis: I am not going to be saying anything about Witness K and I am not going to be commenting on issues in the proceedings.

Senator XENOPHON: I have one more question on this. I will only be a couple of minutes, Chair. I am trying to be expeditious about this. Ms Cooper, the dispute as I understand it, relates to where the line should be in the treaty between Australia and Timor-Leste.

Ms Cooper : No, that is not right.

Senator XENOPHON: That is not the case?

Ms Cooper : It is not a case about maritime boundaries.

Senator XENOPHON: So it does not relate to that?

Senator Brandis: Ms Cooper is correct; that is not the issue in the case and by 'the case' I take it you are referring to the arbitration and not the proceedings in the ICJ.

Senator XENOPHON: Yes. I am sorry I did not clarify that.

Senator Brandis: That is not the issue in the arbitration but when you say it relates to it, it does in a loose sense. The court is not being asked to make orders in relation to the delimitation of maritime boundaries. That is not one of the orders sought in the case.

Senator XENOPHON: Is it a live issue in the case?

Senator Brandis: It all depends on what you mean by a live issue. There are certain assertions being made in the arbitration concerning the conduct of negotiations. That is what the arbitration is about. Now, depending on what the outcome of the arbitration is, then it is not impossible that that may bear on other issues. This is not exactly a state secret. The East Timorese are unhappy with what they see as the deal embodied in the treaty but the revisiting of those boundaries is not one of the grounds of relief sought specifically in the arbitration.

Senator XENOPHON: Thank you for clarifying that. Finally, if I can just go to the line of questioning of Senator Hanson-Young in respect of Cambodia—I take it from what you say, Attorney, that you want to encourage Cambodia and work with them to emerge as a democratic country or to strengthen democratic institutions? There was a report in the Sydney Morning Herald of 11 October 2012 in relation to an AusAID project where a number of Cambodians were complaining about the project. This involved their resettlement or being displaced from their homes in respect of a railway project. Mr Cox, I do not know if that nod was in relation to my question or something else.

Mr Cox : Yes.

Senator XENOPHON: That is the case, so if Mr Cox could assist me on this. Mr Peter Baxter, the then Director-General of AusAID, provided a response to Fairfax in respect of that and there was an issue as to how the complaints were to be dealt with in terms of the allegations by these 30 or so Cambodians of human rights abuses. Mr Baxter gave a comprehensive response to the Sydney Morning Herald saying, 'We are working through these issues.' Can you advise whether the complaints of those Cambodians who went to the Human Rights Commission have been satisfactorily dealt with?

Mr Cox : I will ask Ms Corcoran to answer that.

Senator XENOPHON: Are you familiar with the broad issue?

Mr Cox : Yes. Ms Corcoran will help to answer this one for us.

Ms Corcoran : I will actually have to take that on notice to find out where the situation is with respect to the Human Rights Commission.

Senator XENOPHON: I think there was an issue about the level of compensation. The position of AusAID was that this was going to be good for the economic development of Cambodia but there were a number of people that were displaced and they made a complaint.

Ms Corcoran : That is right.

Senator XENOPHON: And whether the compensation was adequate in terms of resettlement?

Ms Corcoran : I will take that on notice.

Mr Cox : It certainly is accurate that since 2011 Australia has allocated around $2 million in extra funds for the affected communities in the area where the railway was built to improve the resettlement outcomes for those people. That includes support for some low-interest loans to help the families earn incomes by restarting businesses, a social safety net fund to help households to cope with crises, including unforeseen medical expenses they might encounter, community centres at relocation sites to provide spaces for relocated families to gather and improvement for basic infrastructure at those sites. We have been doing quite a bit to help with the resettlement process.

Senator XENOPHON: In the context of Senator Hanson-Young's line of questioning, is this one of these matters that needs to be sorted out or dealt with as part of any negotiations or arrangement with Cambodia, if there is one, given the complaint that was made to the Australian Human Rights Commission? That is the context of the question.

Mr Cox : As I said, we have certainly been working to—the project is now finished. Our involvement with the project is now finished except for continuing to ensure these issues are properly resolved.

Senator XENOPHON: I stand corrected and I apologise. It is actually 30 Cambodian families that have complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission, not just 30 Cambodian individuals. Thank you.

Senator DASTYARI: Could we possibly get the Ambassador for People Smuggling back to the table? I just wanted to go back to something that you said a little bit earlier. I just wanted to get an understanding on this. The Foreign Minister and the Minister for Immigration have both spoken at different times about this idea—and I am using two words here—which is like a club of nations or a chain of nations to provide for resettlement. Is your testimony that you were saying before that there is only one nation that we are speaking to at the moment or in negotiations with regarding a refugee resettlement program?

Mr Chittick : Cambodia is the only nation we are currently negotiating with.

Senator DASTYARI: So there are no discussions even with the Solomon Islands or any other nation, except for an ongoing conversation with Malaysia? I think they were my words and not yours.

Mr Chittick : The ongoing discussion with Malaysia is not about resettlement issues. Our focus at the moment is on Cambodia and also supporting the slightly different settlement commitments that PNG and Nauru have made.

Senator DASTYARI: I know this is going to sound a little bit left of centre but I will put it to you. Have we asked any of the South East Asian nations about how they deal with migrants from Syria in light of the Syrian conflict? I think there was one report to the effect that we had discussions with the Indonesians about effectively treating the Syrian migrants the way that Iranian migrants and others have been treated as potential high risks for being smuggled? Is that correct? I am going from a media report.

Mr Chittick : Not to my knowledge. There are discussions that go on in other departments on migration issues, particularly in the Department of Immigration, but that has not been an issue that I have come across.

Senator DASTYARI: So as far as we are aware—and I assume with these discussions that we are having that they would be something that you would be involved with—there have been no discussions that you are aware of with Malaysia and Indonesia regarding Syrian nationals in light of the Syrian conflict and the potential candidates for people smugglers?

Mr Chittick : Not that I am aware of or have been involved in.

Senator DASTYARI: I will just go back to the discussion about Cambodia. I know that the minister had some fairly strong views on Cambodia—and I note he is not here—where he was quite praising. Can you remind me, Mr Cox, as you would know so much better than I would. Was the election in 2013?

Mr Cox : July 2013.

Senator DASTYARI: There was a fair amount of concern over the outcome of that election, was there not?

Mr Cox : Yes. The outcome was contested by the opposition party and, in fact, the opposition party still has not sat in the National Assembly.

Senator DASTYARI: I appreciate and understand that the Cambodia of the earlier period was where we were talking about a place where effectively—and this may not be the correct term—but I think what happened there was referred as genocide, was it not?

Mr Cox : Yes.

Senator DASTYARI: Obviously the political situation is better than it was then but by our own standards we have expressed our own concerns in recent years, have we not, about the political situation with corruption and the governance of Cambodia?

Mr Cox : As we have said before, the situation in Cambodia over the years has significantly improved. I think it is a democracy. There were elections held last year.

Senator DASTYARI: There are elections in Iran every four years, but I would not call it a democracy.

Mr Cox : Yes, but in which the opposition garnered significant advances, winning 55 seats. It was a significant increase in the number of opposition seats. I think it is fair to say that there has been significant, step-by-step improvement in the overall politico human rights situation in Cambodia. As we said before, it is certainly far from perfect, but the government continues to be in dialogue with the opposition about electoral reform and about the conditions under which the opposition might well come to agree to sit in the National Assembly. I think it is fair to say that it is quite a different situation from what it was 20 years ago.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Chittick, can you explain to me how it works? Do you lead the negotiations as the Ambassador for People Smuggling or you are just part of the team? Who is in charge? Obviously the ministers are in charge but who leads the negotiations?

Mr Chittick : I am the senior official responsible for the negotiations.

Senator DASTYARI: Obviously the final decision is the decision for the ministers. They make the final call and obviously it is a call for government, but from a process perspective you are the day-to-day person in charge?

Mr Chittick : That is correct.

Senator DASTYARI: How does it work? Do you liaise with both ministers? Do you report to both ministers or do you liaise with your Minister Bishop and she liaises with the Immigration Minister?

Mr Chittick : I work to the secretary and work in the Minister for Foreign Affairs portfolio. I work very closely with the Minister for Immigration and his department as well, and a range of others.

Senator DASTYARI: I assume it would not be uncommon nor a surprise that you would directly liaise with the Immigration Minister as well as at times directly liaising with the Foreign Minister, through or not through Mr Varghese?

Mr Chittick : Yes. I see both the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Immigration.

Senator DASTYARI: So you are running these negotiations on a day-to-day basis, again accepting that any kind of final agreement is a decision for government. At this stage you are saying that there are a whole series—to use Mr Varghese's words—of components to any agreement and those components include our concerns or our demands about guaranteeing—and I think you used the term of safety and security of anyone that is going to be resettled to a place like Cambodia, which is obviously natural, and obviously the requests and components of it would be the requests from the Cambodian government. They would put some requests on us, obviously, if we are going to be putting requests on them to be resettling people. Is that a fair assessment?

Mr Chittick : It is certainly not an antagonistic negotiation. There is a great deal of common understanding about the objectives of this agreement, but there are a lot of details in making sure that an endeavour like this can be effectively implemented. There are a lot of moving parts and we are working our way through each of those elements in a very collaborative and cooperative fashion.

Senator DASTYARI: One of the components that are on the table—obviously considering previous deals that have been done—is some form of assistance and some of that assistance may or may not comply with ODA guidelines. If it complies with ODA guidelines it is a government decision about whether they want to put aid resources into that. Is that a fair comment?

Mr Chittick : The resourcing of this agreement is one of a number of issues that has not been finalised.

Senator DASTYARI: It is a big issue though. It is not a small part of it.

Mr Chittick : It is one of a number of issues that have not been finalised.

Senator DASTYARI: But you are in negotiations on that?

Mr Chittick : We are in negotiation in all aspects of the deal including how, together, we can make sure that this is implemented in an effective manner.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Varghese, just to confirm what you said earlier, if part of that deal requires ODA assistance as a component of the broader agreement—and that is not a crazy proposal considering that is what previous proposals have included—you would be waiting for direction from the government as to whether or not you would reallocate that funding?

Mr Varghese : If the government takes the decision to increase the aid budget for Cambodia for whatever reason, then we would act on that and obviously give the government options as to how you would do that within the existing aid budget envelope.

Senator DASTYARI: Just to confirm that you have taken this on notice. You do not have figures in the $5 billion at the moment of how much of that is currently committed and, in particular, you do not have figures about the $309 million increase to $686 million, how much of that $686 million is committed? They are not figures that you can get for us in the next day or two?

Mr Wood : We will take that on notice. This relates to next year's budget allocations, so we will have to see.

Senator DASTYARI: Does that mean none of it is committed because it is next year?

Mr Wood : No, because a large part of our budget is multiyear commitments. There can be agreements around a four-year funding profile. There can be agreements around an infrastructure project that could take several years. It will be a combination of factors.

Senator DASTYARI: I know we were talking slightly earlier about Timor-Leste so I just want to point something out. The table that you provided us based on question 39, which was a question on notice that you took from Minister Wong, stated what had already been committed at that point in time. This is based on the revised figure of 14 January press statement where there were new figures given. There is one thing that surprised me and I did not quite understand this. You understand this so much better than I, Mr Wood. With Timor-Leste the committed funds were $73.7 million. The budgeted funds were $71.6 million. Does that mean that we are going to break where we have made a commitment? My understanding was that committed funds mean funds that we do not have access to anymore even if we wanted to cut them, or is that a misunderstanding of what the term 'committed funds' means?

Mr Wood : The committed funds would relate to an agreement as part of the budget reprioritisation. In some cases there was a rescheduling or a deferral of certain components for projects. We would have to drill down and look at the individual components within that $73.7 million.

Senator DASTYARI: Would you be finding an international partner to cover that for us?

Mr Wood : No, but what might happen is that we may just defer a payment date or we may reschedule a delivery date.

Senator DASTYARI: We are talking about South East Asia in particular. Anything that is committed will be met. Is that the position?

Mr Wood : Those dollars would relate to projects, correct, that had been agreed with.

Senator DASTYARI: The word 'committed' means there is a contract and something has been signed?

Mr Wood : Yes.

Senator DASTYARI: I just wanted to get my bearings on that. With the Cambodian relationship and the Cambodian government—and again, Mr Cox will know this so much better than I do—the UN and the US were critical. Were we actually critical about the voter fraud or were we quiet at the time?

Mr Cox : About the which?

Senator DASTYARI: About the claims of voter fraud in the 2013 July elections. I know the UN and the US were quite openly critical. I am wondering whether we expressed concerns as well.

Mr Cox : Yes, we certainly did express concerns about the situation including through our ambassador and dialogues with both the government and opposition expressing concerns about the circumstances of the elections.

Senator DASTYARI: Is it fair to say that one of the reasons why the Cambodian government is keen on progressing discussions for an agreement is that they are looking for international partners to assist with their own legitimacy?

Mr Chittick : The discussions so far have focused on Cambodia wanting to be an international player in refugee resettlement. In discussions that we have had so far it has been very clear that they are looking to Australia to provide them with assistance to achieve that outcome.

Senator DASTYARI: I can understand why we would want to negotiate with them. I am just wondering what is in it for them? That is the agreement, I suppose. That is what you are negotiating.

Mr Chittick : You would have to ask the Cambodian government.

Senator DASTYARI: But you are asking to them. You are negotiating with them.

Senator Brandis: I think I can take it a little further than Mr Chittick is able to because I am mindful of some remarks that I heard the Foreign Minister make as recently as yesterday. Cambodia has an aspiration to play a greater and more constructive role in the community of nations. It does come from a very dark period in its history, particularly the terrible events of the late 1970s, and its progression from those terrible times has been sometimes difficult. But I think it is right to say, and certainly this is the Foreign Minister's view, that Cambodia does want to emerge into the community of nations as a constructive and respected nation and Australia wants, as a friendly state, to encourage and assist it to do so.

Senator DASTYARI: I will move the discussion on a little bit because I am very conscious of time and there are one or two things that I would like to get through as quickly as we can with South East Asia. I know we spoke earlier about Myanmar and obviously there is a lot of concern regarding the treatment, in particular, of the Rohingyan people. I was wondering whether we have made representations as a government. Obviously we have quite a good dialogue with the Myanmar government these days. I was wondering if that is something that you can elaborate on.

Mr Cox : The situation in Rakhine is something that is really very much at the forefront of our attention. This comes up in dialogues between us and the government of Myanmar and with Burma. The minister, when she met the Burmese Foreign Minister in New York last year at UNGA raised the issue. Our ambassador in Rangoon raises the issue and visits very regularly. Mr Morrison visited Burma a couple of months ago. He visited the region but visited Sittwe and Rakhine State and looked at the situation on the ground and made representations about the general situation.

Senator DASTYARI: Did you travel with Mr Morrison when he went there?

Mr Cox : No. I am in Foreign Affairs and Trade. The ambassador did. Certainly Australia has continued to provide assistance on the ground in Rakhine. So far we have provided around $9 million of humanitarian assistance on the ground in Rakhine. It is something that continues to be very much at the top of our human rights list with them.

Senator DASTYARI: I apologise for not knowing the answer to this, but has the government formally supported the calls for an investigation into the sectarian violence? I know that there have been calls for an investigation, particularly in Arakan state, with a view to possibly prosecuting those responsible. There have certainly been international calls for there to be an investigation into some of those events. I am wondering if we hold a formal position on that.

Mr Cox : I might have to take that one specifically on notice and ask our ambassador in Rangoon whether that is the case.

Senator DASTYARI: I have one or two that you can take on notice with that and that is, if we have not, why not and what barriers exist to us playing a more active role in calling for a full investigation into the sectarian violence and using that as a possibility of actually bringing some of the people that have caused this to justice. I understand and I appreciate, Mr Cox, and you might want to elaborate on this, that we are in a difficult situation where on one hand we want to encourage the progressions and the achievements of the beginning of a democratic Burmese development, but at the same time holding to account what have been some pretty horrendous claims, some of them justifiably so, especially against the Rohingyan people. Do you want to quickly touch on that before we move on?

Mr Cox : We are very acutely aware of the issues that you underlined there. Clearly, we want to promote the continuation of the reforms of the government of President Thein Sein and we want to encourage increasing openness, modernisation of the economy and democratic reforms towards the 2015 elections, but we are acutely aware that the situation in Rakhine presents some very significant human rights problems—problems of interethnic enmity, interethnic violence. It is a very complex situation between the—

Senator DASTYARI: It is quite a tragic situation.

Mr Cox : Burman majority and the minority. Buddhists in Rakhine is difficult enough, and then the problems between the Buddhists in Rakhine and the Muslims in Rakhine is another—and then both of them against the Rohingya, who are considered to be basically illegal immigrants. It is a very complex situation of multiethnic enmity and we are very conscious of the complexity of that. That is why we do raise it, of course, because I do think it is a significant human rights issue. We raise it in the context of understanding the deep complexity of the issue in that country.

Senator DASTYARI: Mr Cox, you made the point that there have been repeated conversations and opportunities to raise this issue and the steps that have been taken. Can you take on notice to provide a bit of an outline? If you can ask the ambassador if he can provide a bit of an outline for us of the exact steps we have taken, the correspondence and the times in which we have raised this, that would be good. Again, can we explore the possibility of what more the department, the government and the minister can do?

Mr Cox : Sure.

Senator DASTYARI: I have got one final question and then I am happy to cede the floor. Senator Brandis, just to go back to the broader issue at hand that we were talking about earlier regarding the Cambodian agreement or, to be correct, there are—

Senator Brandis: The agreement we are trying to achieve.

Senator DASTYARI: Yes. At this stage, I assume that you are aware that there are negotiations, from what they have said. Just my understanding of process, again this is maybe something that I should know, if a final agreement is reached does that then go through a cabinet process? Is that a cabinet decision?

Senator Brandis: Not necessarily. There are subcommittees of cabinet and it may well go to a subcommittee of cabinet. It is not legislation and it is not, as it were, a new policy proposal, which are the sorts of things that usually need to go to cabinet's consideration.

Senator DASTYARI: If a decision was to be made to reallocate the aid funding—and in particular my view of what is about to be reallocated for it, which is the cross-regional programs funding—is that a cabinet decision, is that an ERC decision or is that an executive decision? Can the minister make that decision for that kind of reallocation herself? I just do not know the process of it.

Senator Brandis: The cabinet ultimately signs off on the ERC's recommendations in relation to the budget. As to the allocation of monies to particular programs within particular portfolios, ordinarily that is done under the headline process of the budget. I am not sufficiently familiar with the arrangements within this portfolio and the particular programs of which you speak to be able to answer that question, so I will take it on notice.

Senator DASTYARI: Just to confirm, have you taken on notice whether or not there have been any conversations or discussions about using the cross-regional programs funding to find any kind of agreement as a component for an agreement with Cambodia?

Senator Brandis: If I said I would, I will.

Senator DASTYARI: Would you rule it out, though?

Senator Brandis: You know what those questions are like, Senator Dastyari; they are entirely conjectural and in that sense unworthy of your fine intellect.

CHAIR: Senator Fawcett.

Senator FAWCETT: Could I go to Thailand, Mr Cox, a country we have had a very good relationship with in the past and we have been a good partner with in a number of activities. Could you just give us an update on the situation in Thailand following the coup? I am particularly interested in what has been affected. I am aware that Defence has wound back at least three of its exercises. I am interested to understand what other steps the Australian government has taken with respect to the current military regime.

Mr Cox : The secretary may want to comment.

Mr Varghese : Just to start, obviously we are seriously concerned at the coup that has occurred in Thailand and we hope very much that the country can be returned to a clear path towards the resumption of democracy, the convening of elections and the installation of an elected government. Reflecting our concerns about the coup, we have reduced our engagement with the Thai military and we will lower the level of our interaction with the Thai military leadership.

We have already announced, as you indicated, the postponement of three activities that had been planned in coming weeks: a military operations law training course, a reconnaissance visit for a counter-improvised explosive device training course and a reconnaissance visit for a counter-terrorism training exercise. We will keep under review our defence and other bilateral activities. We have also put in place a mechanism to prevent the key leaders of the coup from visiting Australia and we have called on the current leadership in Thailand to refrain from arbitrary detentions, to release those who are detained for political reasons and to respect rights and fundamental freedoms. We are obviously also keeping our consular interests under very close supervision. We have been updating our Smartraveller consular advice. We have been in particular emphasising the need to avoid demonstrations.

We have not raised the level of the overall advice. It is still to exercise a high degree of caution. But Thailand is an important country in South-East Asia. It is the second biggest economy in ASEAN. It is a country that we have enduring interests in. We very much hope that they can work their way out of this current situation and return to a democratic path.

Mr Cox : Just in terms of a factual update, I can say that, on 30 May, General Prayuth, who was the leader of the coup, outlined a three-stage process for restoration of democracy. The first phase is to achieve national reconciliation through dialogue; a second phase through to the establishment of a legislative council to nominate a Prime Minister and administer the country as well as draft a new constitution; and a final phase leading to a general election. He indicated that elections were unlikely to be held anytime within 12 months.

Senator FAWCETT: Taking Fiji as an example where the commitment to an election and the commencement of a process has been enough to see some re-engagement, do you envisage that there will be a point where we will engage to encourage and perhaps facilitate or support that move towards democratic elections?

Mr Varghese : We have not completely disengaged from our dealings with Thailand. I think it is reasonable to assume that, if we get a credible set of decisions and signals about the resumption of a clear pathway to democracy, that level of engagement would also, appropriately, increase.

Senator FAWCETT: That is obviously the path we trust things will go down. If things do deteriorate at all, how many Australian nationals do we currently have in Thailand?

Mr Varghese : We can only estimate—

Mr Cox : About 28,500 Australians are in Thailand at any one time, according to our embassy, and about 8,555 Australians are registered in Bangkok.

Senator FAWCETT: Is it a reasonable assumption that there are discussions or contingency plans in terms of your consular services there should some kind of further action to support those people be required?

Mr Varghese : We are certainly keeping the consular issues under very close review. Mr Brown may want to add to that. As long as the airports are functioning and easy to access then it is obviously a much more manageable environment. We know from when this happened last time, if the airports were, for whatever reason, to close, it becomes a much more serious issue given that we are talking tens of thousands of Australians. I do not know if you want to add to that, Mr Brown.

Mr Brown : Only to say that we are in regular touch with all of our like-minded consular partners on contingency planning. As the secretary has just indicated, the status of the airports and arterial roads leading to the airports would be a major trigger for us to consider ratcheting up to the next level of our contingency planning. That has not happened to date but, as Mr Cox has indicated, Thailand is in a volatile and unpredictable situation at the moment, so we are monitoring the situation carefully. We have updated our travel advice six times since the declaration of martial law and we have had a very large spike in the number of registrations by members of the travelling public with our Smartraveller site. We are confident that we are getting a reasonably good level of messaging through those channels to the public.

Senator FAWCETT: Can I just move slightly within the region to Vietnam. This follows on from our discussion earlier about peace and stability in the region. Some days ago the media were reporting the demonstrations in Vietnam against the Chinese and the fact that there were a number of deaths. That reporting has dried up. Are you able to advise the committee as to whether that situation has calmed down or whether the media has just tired of reporting it?

Mr Cox : I believe that the situation has calmed down. After the situation escalated around the middle of May, 14 or 15 May, the Prime Minister of Vietnam, Prime Minister Dung, issued statements calling for calm and a greater number of police and security forces were deployed to sites where there had been violent demonstrations near Chinese or Taiwanese owned factories or sites. I think that sort of calmed the situation down.

The Chinese authorities sent in vessels to evacuate up to 3,000 Chinese nationals, so after that peak in violence around the middle of the month, the situation has calmed down, at least on the surface. It would be right to say that the feelings in Vietnam about the incident and amongst the community are still very red hot, but the actual manifestations of violence have been calmed down, yes.

Senator FAWCETT: Are there any indications at this stage as to whether the Chinese are just leaving the rig there or are they looking to start drilling? Is there any indication that they may remove it?

Mr Cox : I think our understanding is yes, that they have started activities related to drilling. They have indicated that the rig might stay in position until August.

Senator FAWCETT: Thank you.

CHAIR: I would like to ask just one question about Myanmar, where I visited a couple of years ago. There was a great deal of interest expressed in Australia providing expertise in mining development. Has that been fulfilled?

Mr Cox : Yes, receiving advice and expertise from us is very much something that the Burmese are very interested in. Of course, Woodside Petroleum, certainly offshore, has been granted some offshore exploration leases by the government of Myanmar. The authorities are also very interested in learning about proper mining practice, mining governance. They are interested in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and various teams of officials from the relevant ministries in Naypyidaw have visited Australia over the recent couple of years, looking to create a modern regulatory environment for mining. So, the answer is yes. They are very interested in that. Of course they recognise that Australia has global class expertise in mining, so when people want to know about mining they come to Australia.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. The other thing, I suppose, is the politics of Myanmar or Burma. There are a lot of small or various ethnic groups there. What is their progress towards real democracy? How would we assess that?

Mr Cox : As I said earlier, they are leading up to national elections in 2015. These elections are a major test for Burma. If the elections for a new president and a national assembly president are held in circumstances that are free and fair and allow for a legitimate transfer of authority to a new leadership and reflect the balance of government, SPDC and NLD opposition, in a new national assembly as well as the various ethnic minority parties and also lead to a transfer to a new president or an election of a president that is considered to be open and transparent, then I think Burma will have been seen to have passed a significant test. This is still an issue that is really to be tested. I think this is a major issue that observers are looking at Burma to see how that is going to go.

Certainly, I think it is fair to say that the government of President Thein Sein has made significant progress in seeking to modernise the country, open it to the world, try to improve some of its governance and legislative regulatory regimes to try and attract foreign investment and to bring about a sustainable political and economic future for the country. A lot of it is still in the balance and the 2015 election is going to be an important way station or milestone in that process.

CHAIR: There was a previous military government. To what extent have they retired from the scene? Is it completely?

Mr Cox : The military is still involved in the government. The SPDC party, which is the governing party, is largely made up of military figures or retired military figures. The military is still quite involved in the large business foundations and associations around large parts of the economy. It is fair to say at the same time that there is a lot more space for opposition parties and ethnic minority parties—non-military voices—in the parliament. Ex-military people work very closely in cross-party committees with members of NLD and other elected members of the parliament to form committees like it to prepare legislation and question officials. The parliament represents a cross-section of views. It would not be fair to characterise it as a military dominated government; it is more complex than that.

CHAIR: Are there analogies to be drawn with Indonesia's past history? Their military was quite dominant.

Mr Cox : If you are trying to compare it with the government of President Suharto, I do not think so. I think it maybe more akin to the government under the first term after President Suharto, the government of President Habibie, where the military still had significant seats in the DPR in Jakarta, but they were then phased out. Yes, in that period of 1998 to 2000 or so, I think you could sort of compare elements of what was happening in Indonesia then with the circumstances in Myanmar, in Burma, now. Each country is distinguishable by its own facts, so it is not completely comparable.

CHAIR: Thank you. Senator Xenophon has requested a very short period to question and then we will go to Senator Milne.

Senator XENOPHON: I will be very brief.

Senator DASTYARI: I just want one question.

CHAIR: No, we are going to Senator Milne, but we will come back to you.

Senator XENOPHON: I just want to ask some questions about Malaysia. I should just disclose that I am still a banned person from that country. I do not think my questions will help that ban being removed in any way. Notwithstanding that, has the department or the Australian government made any representations to the Malaysian government in relation to the recent overturning of the acquittal of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim in relation to sodomy charges against him?

I note in that context that the International Commission of Jurists has condemned the conviction as a miscarriage of justice, saying it cast doubts on the independence and impartiality of the Malaysian judiciary and tarnished the reputation of the country's legal system. I also note that the ICJ's observer at the court was its commissioner, Justice Elizabeth Evatt, a former chief judge of Australia's Family Court. Has the Australian government or the department made any representations or expressed any concerns in respect of the recent court case involving opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim?

Mr Cox : The case, as you know, is under further appeal by Anwar to the Federal Court of Malaysia, and as a result of that it is still sub judice in that sense. As with all legal proceedings in that nature, we have not made specific representations on that case as it is still subject of further appeal to Malaysia's highest court.

Senator XENOPHON: I understand what you have said about it being sub judice, but there are concerns expressed by the International Commission of Jurists and Justice Elizabeth Evatt, who was the ICJ's observer at the court, about the court process, about the impartiality of the country's legal system and the independence of the Malaysian judiciary. Are these matters that have been raised by the Australian government with the Malaysian government?

Mr Cox : No, those matters have not been raised with the Malaysian government in the context of that specific case, because as I said the matter is still subject of further appeal by Anwar to the country's highest court.

Senator XENOPHON: I note Anwar's absolute and vehement denials and protestations of innocence in respect of the charges laid and I also note that the earlier charges were eventually overturned after he spent six years in jail. The other issue is the offence of sodomy itself; does the Australian government make any representations, given the position of the UN and the International Human Rights Group of the use of this colonial era charge against Anwar Ibrahim?

Mr Cox : Again, in this case we have not made specific representations because of the fact that the matter is on foot within the legal system of Malaysia.

Senator XENOPHON: Just to clarify that, once the court process is over and done with and if Anwar Ibrahim is jailed for, I think it was a five year jail term—and it might even be longer in appeal, depending if there is a cross-appeal—do you say then that the Australian government or the department might be in a position to then comment about the—

Mr Cox : That would be a matter of determination at the particular time, depending on the outcome of the case.

Senator XENOPHON: So, no alarm bells based on what Justice Evatt and the International Commission of Jurists said?

Mr Cox : We remain concerned in general about human rights conditions, yes. If you are asking me whether we are going to make a specific statement about that case if Anwar's appeal were not to be upheld, then I would have to say that I cannot give you an answer on that now until such time as that is what comes to pass. It is a hypothetical question.

Senator XENOPHON: So, concerns that the trial and the appeal process were choreographed by the government that it seemed to time his plans to run for chief minister of Selangor, are these not matters that you are concerned with at this stage?

Mr Cox : Our High Commission in Kuala Lumpur is monitoring the situation very closely and we are, of course, concerned about the general situation and watch it very closely. On this specific case, we will need to see what actually happens through the actual court process and then make determinations at the time about what particular response we might make.

Senator XENOPHON: Just out of interest, I continue to be banned from Malaysia. Does the Australian government have any position as to whether that is appropriate or not?

Mr Cox : We understand that you have sought some review of that decision. Of course, it concerns us that an Australian member of parliament—

Senator XENOPHON: I sought a judicial review.

Mr Cox : would be excluded from Malaysia. That does concern us, of course, but unfortunately that is a matter for the Malaysian immigration regulations.

Senator XENOPHON: So, there will not be any representations from the Australian government in that regard?

Mr Cox : If you are asking us to raise the issue, we will certainly take it up with the Malaysian authorities and ask them. It is of concern to us that any Australian member of parliament would be excluded from access to Malaysia, of course. As you would recall, we did try to facilitate access through the low-cost carrier terminal in Malaysia with the Malaysian authorities for your access to—

Senator XENOPHON: I always fly low cost.

Mr Cox : travel to Thailand. We did make active representations on your behalf with the Malaysian High Commissioner here. Yes, of course we will.

Senator XENOPHON: That is okay. I think you have got more important things to do. I think I just have to bypass that country for a while yet. Thank you anyway.

CHAIR: Senator Milne.

Senator MILNE: Thank you. I might request Mr Chittick to come back to the table, if I may. I would like to talk about Cambodia this afternoon, and I wanted to take you up, Mr Cox, on your description of the election that was held last year in July and your implication in your answer that things were improving, that there was a democracy, there had been elections and that the opposition had won 55 seats. Is it not true that the election was marred by considerable electoral irregularities and that the leader of the opposition in Cambodia, Sam Rainsy, asked the Australian government for help in seeking a United Nations probe into the irregularities in that election? If you or somebody else could answer whether Sam Rainsy approached anyone at the Australian embassy or here in Canberra in relation to that?

Mr Cox : Indeed, Sam Rainsy was and continues to be concerned about the conduct of the elections, but he and the Cambodian National Rescue Party continue to be in dialogue with the government of Cambodia about the electoral reform and about opportunities for the elected members of the national assembly, his 55 deputies, to the circumstances whereby they may in future join the national assembly if there are appropriate reforms put in place. Through our ambassador in Phnom Penh we continue to support that process and encourage both sides, the government and opposition, to find an appropriate compromise formula to work forward on that.

You are right that the UN was approached by Mr Rainsy; however, I think the UN itself chose to look to the parties themselves to try to form the compromise whereby they could both agree on the conditions by which the Cambodian National Rescue Party would sit in the national assembly. We continue to be in dialogue with Mr Rainsy. Our minister and also Senator Mason have met with Mr Rainsy. The minister has spoken to Mr Rainsy when she was in Cambodia and Mr Rainsy met with Senator Mason when Mr Rainsy visited here. We have continued to offer him encouragement and support to try to resolve the differences between the government and opposition to facilitate the opposition taking up its seats in the national assembly.

Senator MILNE: Has the Australian government taken up with the Hun Sen regime the irregularities, the independence of the electoral commission and the early election that the opposition is seeking? Have those matters been raised by the Australian government with the Hun Sen regime?

Mr Cox : When Ms Bishop met with Prime Minister Hun Sen she certainly encouraged the process of reconciliation. I think that meeting took place a couple of days after the 18 February agreement where the two sides agreed to begin a process to sit down to try to nut out a solution whereby the opposition could sit in the national assembly. That process has gone through some highs and lows since then. It still has not resolved itself, but certainly Ms Bishop encouraged that process to get underway properly after that 18 February agreement. That is something that we continue to urge through our ambassador in Phnom Penh and through further dialogues with Mr Rainsy and other political voices in Phnom Penh.

Senator MILNE: In relation to that meeting in February it was only a very short time after there had been a protest in Phnom Penh at which four garment factory workers were shot dead and at which 23 others were arrested, imprisoned and have only been released in the last week or so. What action did the Australian government take with the Hun Sen regime to protest about the human rights abuses that took place and to secure the release of those 23 people?

Mr Cox : On 28 January in Geneva at the Universal Periodic Review on Cambodia we voiced our very strong statement urging the government to look into these matters to avoid arbitrary violence and the attacks on protestors and garment workers, as you say, that had happened in early January in the context of a strike at garment factories that had merged together with elements of the protest movement or the opposition movement. So both through our embassy in Phnom Penh, through the ambassador and her staff, in representations to the government, through our support for the UN Special Rapporteur and their work on human rights in Cambodia and through our statement at the Universal Periodic Review at the end of January, I think we have made clear our protest at those violent actions at that demonstration and the desire that those actions not be repeated and that those involved be brought properly to account.

Senator MILNE: In relation to that, is it true that Prime Minister Hun Sen has suspended freedom of association and banned people meeting in Freedom Park, for example?

Mr Cox : I will need to take that detail on notice. Certainly, as far as I am aware, there are still groups gathering in Phnom Penh, so I really do not know the answer to that question. Suffice to say that I think groups are still congregating. I will take that one on notice.

Senator MILNE: What I would like to know specifically is whether the Australian government has protested the fact that freedom of association has been suspended in Cambodia by the Prime Minister?

Mr Cox : That was certainly part of our statement at the Universal Periodic Review. We, again, asserted the importance of the right of freedom of assembly, the right to protest and freedom of expression as critical rights for the Cambodian government to uphold. Those were critical parts of our Universal Periodic Review statement and those were I think, in turn, reiterated by Ms Bishop in her press release following her visit. There was a press release issued on her departure from Phnom Penh on 22 February.

Senator MILNE: And at the very same time we were protesting about refusing a right of freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom for the press and so on, we are considering sending refugees to that country.

Mr Cox : We continue to see some elements of freedom of press in Cambodia in newspapers like the English-language newspaper in Phnom Penh. The Phnom Penh daily newspaper is often quite critical of policy issues, including on the issue of resettlement. This issue has been widely written about and we often find the media in Phnom Penh is widely reporting on these issues, so I do not think that you can say that the press in Phnom Penh is muzzled by any means, including on this issue. It has been widely reported and debated in Phnom Penh as much as it is here as far as I can see.

Senator MILNE: Are you aware that the former Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, has said that Prime Minister Hun Sen rules as an autocrat, that the Cambodian leaders should be named, shamed, investigated and sanctioned because of violence, human rights abuses, corruption and media and electoral manipulation without any serious internal or external challenges?

Senator Brandis: Are you able to help us by telling us when Mr Evans said that and whether those views were informed by a recent visit by Mr Evans to that country?

Senator MILNE: I can certainly tell you that he made those remarks in March this year.

Senator Brandis: Are you able to tell us when Mr Evans was most recently in Cambodia?

Senator MILNE: No. I am not in communication with Mr Evans but I am aware that he made those remarks this year.

Senator Brandis: So you are not in a position to tell us or make comment on the authority with which Mr Evans speaks, given that you do not even know whether he has been to Cambodia lately or for a long time?

Senator MILNE: He works in a global context. I am not judging Mr Evans as to when he has been in Cambodia but I am giving you those remarks.

Senator Brandis: But you are putting him forward as an expert. You are putting him forward as an expert. I know Mr Evans, who is a distinguished former Australian foreign minister, as we are all aware, but whether he has particular recent expertise of Cambodia which would enable him to speak with authority on recent political events in Cambodia is something that you are not able to reassure us of.

Senator MILNE: I am sure he will be more than happy to inform you of his sources and he can take that up. He has worked in a global peace context for some time.

Senator Brandis: Then he must be right?

Senator MILNE: He can speak for himself. The point here is he is making it clear.

Senator Brandis: Is that your point, that anybody who represents themselves as working in—to use your words—a global peace context is therefore an expert on the domestic affairs of any particular country?

Senator MILNE: I accept Mr Evans's remarks as a former foreign minister and someone informed in human rights circles. I want to go on to DFAT's role in promoting Australian financial institutions in Cambodia, particularly whether DFAT has played any role in facilitating investment by Australian banks in Cambodia. Have we had any meetings with any of the big four banks where Cambodian investment has been discussed, either here or in Cambodia?

Mr Cox : I have some notes on that matter. Just to add to Senator Brandis's point or just to clarify further, I should say that we are very aware of that op-ed that he wrote and those are his views. We are aware of that. I will ask Ms Corcoran to comment on your question about the banks.

Ms Corcoran : We have not provided any support to any of the major banks to operate in Cambodia. However, I should say that we have, through the aid program, provided a $340,000 grant to Credit Union Foundation Australia to deliver some financial literacy training to households relocated by the Cambodia Railway Rehabilitation project, noting that the Credit Union Foundation Australia is not a bank but an accredited NGO.

Senator MILNE: Are you saying that DFAT representatives have had no meetings with any of the big four banks where Cambodia has been discussed?

Ms Corcoran : No. I am not saying that. I am saying that we are not providing any support to the banks.

Senator MILNE: I am asking whether DFAT representatives have had meetings with any of the big four where Cambodia has been discussed?

Ms Corcoran : I will have to take that on notice.

Mr Cox : I think we will take that on notice. I am sure the ambassador would have had meetings in Phnom Penh with representatives of ANZ Royal Bank, for example. As you know ANZ has an investment with the Royal Group in a bank in Cambodia and I am absolutely sure that the ambassador has had meetings with the representatives, the CEO of that bank and representatives of that bank. We will get further details for you about the meetings between the ambassador and members of the staff of the banks on notice.

Senator MILNE: Further to that, can you tell me if any steps have been taken by DFAT in relation to the Banking on Shaky Ground report that was released by Oxfam in April this year which indicated that ANZ had been involved in investing in a company which was associated with a government minister and which saw people displaced from their land and a large amount of money going to that particular political figure?

Mr Cox : My notes suggest that for issues relating to the Banking on Shaky Ground Oxfam report, that my colleague Mr Sam Gerovich, the head of the Trade and Economic Diplomacy Division, may have more to assist us. I do not know if he is here at the moment. I might ask him to answer those questions later or we can take them on notice.

Senator MILNE: Can you indicate to me whether the allegations contained in the report have been investigated by DFAT or any steps have been taken to assess what has gone on there in relation to that Australian bank? Further to that, are you aware that Transparency International describes Cambodia as the most corrupt of the ASEAN nations?

Mr Cox : No, I was not aware of that depiction.

Senator MILNE: Is it a corrupt regime?

Mr Cox : As you said, you have quoted a Transparency International report. I do not think I am in a position to make a blanket judgment that you are requesting.

Senator MILNE: Can you confirm that the Global Fund last year brought out a major report which said that there was a network of bribery in Cambodia connected to the Ministry of Health? That was in relation to grants and so on that came into Cambodia.

Senator Brandis: It is all very well for you to quote the conclusions, or at the least the assertions, of worthy bodies but the officers at the table are responsible for the conduct of Australian diplomacy. We have our own diplomatic representation and the Australian government forms its conclusions on such matters primarily on the basis of the advice of our expert diplomatic representatives.

There are many countries in the world that are criticised by ostensibly worthy international organisations. Australia is criticised by some ostensibly worthy international organisations, almost always wrongly. So is the United States and so are all of the democracies of the world criticised at one time or another by these ostensibly worthy international organisations, the credibility of whose judgments depends on the thoroughness of their investigations, the prejudices they may bring and the expertise and integrity of the people who write these reports. You can quote them until the cows come home, but the Australian government has better bases than unverified reports by organisations of no particular expertise about this particular country on the basis of which to form its own views.

Senator MILNE: In that case can you tell me what is the Australian government's considered view about whether or not Cambodia's Hun Sen regime is corrupt?

Senator Brandis: The Australian government does not act as a commentator on friendly nations and on the domestic affairs of friendly nations. I do not think you were in the room but I made the point to Senator Dastyari that we accept that Cambodia is seeking a place among the community of nations, a respected place among the community of nations, and that it has taken steps in recent years to put what is uncontroversially a very dark past behind it and Australia, as a friendly state, encourages and supports its endeavours.

Undoubtedly in relation to this particular country, as in relation to many other countries, there may be issues of governance. One of the reasons the Abbott government put governance at the top of the G20 agenda this year is that we care about governance and we understand how important good governance is, both to economic prosperity and to political success, but we want to help Cambodia in improving its systems. We do not, in a Diogenes like fashion, wander around the world reading moral lectures to every country.

Senator MILNE: In relation to any money that goes from Australia to Cambodia, can you guarantee that that money is not going to line the pockets of the ministers in the Hun Sen regime?

Senator Brandis: That is a hypothetical question. We have, as you should know, various integrity measures in place in relation to our foreign aid about which the officials can speak in detail.

Senator MILNE: Perhaps you can tell me what guarantees you can offer me that money that goes to Cambodia is not lining the pockets of the Hun Sen regime.

Senator Brandis: These are highly rhetorical expressions that you are using. No government can guarantee that every official in every country which may be the beneficiary of its aid program is not or has never been guilty of corrupt conduct. It is not possible to guarantee that in relation to every official of every recipient state. What we can do is we can establish, as we have done, strict integrity guidelines in relation to our foreign aid and our foreign aid program, about which Mr McDonald can speak.

Mr Cox : As Senator Brandis said, in our existing $85.3 million aid program or our aid flows to Cambodia, like all countries we have very robust fraud controls in place to ensure that the funds that we dedicate to the program are being used for the purposes for which they are designed. I do not know but maybe Mr Dawson from the Aid Contracting Division can assist.

Mr McDonald : I can add to that. The Australian aid program has a zero tolerance to fraud, and has for as long as I have been involved in it. That includes us prosecuting offenders where there has been fraud committed. It includes recovery of misappropriated funds or assets. To avoid fraud we put in place a number of strategies. They include fraud control plans, which were just alluded to. There is aid project designs which address fraud and corruption. There is a comprehensive training program for DFAT staff in relation to managing that aspect of the program.

There are standard contract clauses that are put in place in relation to requirements for not only the Australian government but also our partners in relation to avoiding any fraud activity and there is close monitoring of our aid projects. In fact, we have a very strong evaluation process and monitoring process not only here in Canberra but also within the countries in question. We take that risk very seriously and we have in place a whole set of mitigation strategies in relation to that.

Senator MILNE: Why would I have confidence in that when it comes to Cambodia when you have Senator Ly Yong Phat, the leading Cambodian political figure and ruling party member who is clearly named in the Phnom Penh sugar scandal in Cambodia with displacing people and millions of dollars coming his way in that associated venture backed by ANZ bank? Given what has been exposed there, why would I think that you would be able to track the money in the way that you are suggesting?

Senator Brandis: Why would you even conclude that, because an allegation has been made, it must be true, which is basically the point of your question? You are saying that some individual, about whom you know nothing except what you have read, has been the subject of an allegation. Now, I do not know if this allegation is true or not, but what the official has been able to explain to you, though you seem to be impervious to what he is trying to explain to you, is that the Australian government has both a zero tolerance policy in relation to fraud in the delivery of its foreign aid and a very comprehensive, robust and strong mechanisms to protect against fraud.

Senator MILNE: In that case what prosecutory action have we taken in Sri Lanka?

Senator Brandis: I think the adjective you meant was prosecutorial.

Senator MILNE: What action have we taken in relation to Sri Lanka with the person in the navy who was involved in the exposure of Australia to ridicule our asylum seeker program?

Senator Brandis: I am sorry, I thought we were talking about Cambodia.

Senator MILNE: We were but I am asking you this. You are saying we take a strong stand on these matters. I have noticed no such strong stand against the Rajapaksa regime in this particular case where it was exposed that we were made fools of. Thank you.

Proceedings suspended from 18:27 to 19:34

Senator EDWARDS: I would like to turn to the Burma program—program 1.1, South-East Asia, Burma. In July 2013 the then foreign minister, Mr Bob Carr, took a chartered jet from Singapore to Burma. Who in the department was responsible for arranging Mr Carr's visit to Burma in July 2013?

Mr Cox : That would have been the South-East Asia division.

Senator EDWARDS: Which is Mr Roach.

Mr Roach : In regard to Senator Carr's visit to Burma in July 2013, in terms of the hiring of a chartered aircraft, that is something in which the minister would have sought the approval of the Prime Minister before doing it.

Senator EDWARDS: But who arranged his trip there?

Mr Roach : That would fall within my branch's responsibilities.

Senator EDWARDS: So you arranged it. In his diary he says that he used a chartered jet to travel from Singapore to Burma. Did you arrange that flight?

Mr Roach : That is correct.

Senator EDWARDS: Why didn't Minister Carr take a commercial flight?

Mr Roach : Regarding the use of a chartered aircraft in this case, the argument was made by Senator Carr that a chartered aircraft would give him the flexibility with his travel movements that would not otherwise be rendered possible when compared with the use of commercial aircraft.

Senator EDWARDS: So it was about itinerary flexibility?

Mr Roach : Correct.

Senator EDWARDS: Was there a fluid itinerary that required a commercial flight? Were there set meeting times or things like that? Was there a solid itinerary by the time he got to leave Singapore?

Mr Roach : I believe that it probably rested on the locations where the then minister wished to go within Burma, and what that would have meant in terms of delays and additional time spent on the ground, whereas an efficiency obviously could be made by using a charter aircraft.

Senator EDWARDS: So he hopped airports through Burma? Is that what your contention is?

Mr Roach : I am just looking for the program.

Mr Cox : I seem to recall that he wanted to go to Naypyidaw, the capital of Burma, and flight schedules between Rangoon—in Burma—are often quite variable. I think he wanted to visit Naypyidaw and Rangoon. The charter flight enabled flexibility to do that.

Senator EDWARDS: Why wouldn't you charter a plane there to do that rather than from Singapore?

Mr Cox : Mr Roach will have to answer that one.

Mr Roach : I will need to take that on notice, I think. From having served in South-East Asia I suspect it may come down to issues around aircraft safety.

Mr Cox : And availability, I suspect, because the relative availability of aircraft in Singapore is very high compared with in Yangon.

Senator EDWARDS: It was very interesting that a plane was taken from there when there are regular services to those places you spoke of. You said they were variable, but they don't vary too much into major centres. Is that true? There are regular and effective services from Singapore to those places you named. Are you saying that there is variability in the outbound planes from Singapore—that they do not land at the scheduled times, or—

Mr Cox : I think between Rangoon and Naypyidaw the flight schedule and safety are the issues.

Senator EDWARDS: So the planes that fly out of Naypyidaw or Rangoon are not safe, or fly when the feel like it?

Mr Cox : Yes, between Rangoon and Naypyidaw.

Senator EDWARDS: Were enquiries ever made as to whether those flights did suit the minister's schedule?

Mr Roach : In putting the itinerary together we would have provided a list of what the flight options were. To run through the program that Senator Carr undertook on that visit, he was in Singapore from 8 July to 10 July. Then on 10 July he went to Naypyidaw and left on 10 July to go to Yangon. Then he departed Yangon on 11 July. I would imagine in looking at what the commercial options would have been a decision was made by his office to seek the Prime Minister's approval for the use of a chartered aircraft.

Senator EDWARDS: I am just interested in the process of whether there actually was a process, whether the veracity of the contention that there were no suitable services, whether that was actually done or there was just a decision made back in Singapore that we are taking a plane and don't bother looking because I'm not interested in taking one. I am interested to know that your department checked all this and said to the Foreign Minister, 'These are the times you can travel,' and he said at that time, 'That's not going to suit.'

Mr Roach : The routine way we prepare for overseas visits to provide the commercial flight options and options in terms of what all the options are laid out. Then they look at it and shape an itinerary around that.

Senator EDWARDS: Did his office make the decision to charter a flight or was it the minister himself after seeing what you had tabled for him?

Mr Roach : I do not have visibility of who would have made that decision. We would simply have been informed, 'We have looked at it, we are going to try to seek Prime Minister's approval to take a chartered aircraft.'

Senator EDWARDS: I understand that these things happen. I am very interested in the process in this particular case. We were on the cusp of an election and the whole issue of management of time and everything like that seems to be a world away for this minister. What was the cost of that charter flight?

Mr Roach : Looking at the date of that visit, it is after 1 July 2013 and the financial information we are waiting on the Department of Finance to publish. We will know that imminently.

Senator EDWARDS: So that will be forthcoming shortly, and take that as one on notice.

Senator Brandis: We will take that on notice, Senator.

Senator EDWARDS: Who accompanied Minister Carr on this flight at that time?

Mr Roach : The best I can do to advise you is that there were two officers who accompanied him from his office. I do not have the information on who from the department accompanied him but one departmental officer accompanied the minister as well.

Senator EDWARDS: So how many people in total?

Mr Roach : Two from his office, one from the department. Bear with me one moment and I may be able to confirm whether Mrs Carr accompanied. Yes, she did.

Senator EDWARDS: So five people plus the pilot. What was the seating capacity of the aircraft?

Mr Roach : I need to take that on notice. I recall there may have been a couple of members of the press who were invited to accompany Senator Carr on that visit. That is my recollection.

Senator EDWARDS: To go back to my previous question, how many people were on the plane?

Mr Roach : I will take that on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: There could have been seven.

Mr Roach : There may well have been.

Senator EDWARDS: I am just interested to know the number. Was the seating capacity of the aircraft seven?

Mr Roach : I would have to take that on notice, I am sorry.

Senator EDWARDS: Do you know what the aircraft was?

Mr Roach : No, I do not.

Senator EDWARDS: But you will get back to me on that. Did the department propose a smaller aircraft in the initial instance?

Mr Roach : I would have to take that on notice.

Senator EDWARDS: If you do not know the answer to that question you will not know whether that was rejected by the minister at the time. Please come back to me on that. If that was the case, there was an aircraft rejected by the minister, could you come back to me with the difference in the cost between those two aircraft, the one that was rejected and the one that was ultimately taken?

Mr Roach : I can do that, Senator.

CHAIR: Senator Faulkner, and then I have a couple of questions which were missed before.

Senator FAULKNER: I want to come back now, Mr Varghese, to the two documents which you tabled a little earlier. I appreciate the fact that they were tabled. Can I go to the one that is headed 'Machinery of government, formal requirements', please. Again, thank you for tabling that. That is helpful. There are a number of subheadings there. In 'Structure' the first dot point says, 'The final departmental integrated structure will be in place by 1 July 2014.' I just wanted to see if the expectation is that that deadline either has been met or will be met.

Mr Varghese : It has been met.

Senator FAULKNER: That means, I assume, then in relation to the third dot point in 'Structure', which says that the integration of all areas has occurred except for the South-East Asia and Pacific divisions, that that clearly has taken place, given your—

Mr Varghese : Yes, it has. Ms Rawson has just reminded me that, formally, Pacific division comes into effect on Monday.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that very precise answer. In the part of the document with the subheading 'People'—and I will come back to the second survey in a moment—are there any mechanisms or measures for monitoring staff wellbeing besides the Pulse survey, and of course we know about that because, again, you have tabled the first set of results from the Pulse survey. Are there any other mechanisms?

Mr Varghese : We do have within the department a number of support services. We have, for instance, counselling services with professional counsellors. We have a medical adviser. In some of our overseas posts, we have either doctors or nurses, and of course we have access to the employee assistance service, which is counselling provided externally but available to departmental people.

Senator FAULKNER: I appreciate that. The reason I ask is that the fourth dot point says, 'Staff wellbeing is being monitored, including through a survey program.' I accept the survey program. It is just that use of language I was interested to understand. Does what you have indicated cover the field?

Mr Varghese : I think I would see it as a basic responsibility of managers to monitor the welfare of their staff.

Mr Fisher : We did also look at absenteeism for the first part of the integration process, through the new year, for instance. We looked at absenteeism through that period as an indicator of staff welfare—people not turning up to work because of problems. That was in fact down over that period of time. That is another thing we did look at.

Senator FAULKNER: The next dot point goes to learning and development programs. They are being revised and, as it says, where necessary developed. I was interested there to ask if the same programs effectively apply to departmental staff as to former AusAID staff. Are there some differences in relation to that element, given the integration process?

Mr Varghese : I think the framework that we will be operating on—and I think we already are operating, although I will ask Mr Fisher to say otherwise if we have not already got there—is that the entire suite of our training programs will be made available, obviously on a needs basis, to all in the department, irrespective of whether they came from AusAID into the department or whether they were in the department beforehand.

Senator FAULKNER: I suppose, just to be clear, what I am asking is: in that dot point, it talks about the learning and development programs and their review and revision and development if required. But it goes on to say: 'to help build the necessary capabilities for the integrated department'. Perhaps my question was not as clear as it should have been, but what I had meant to ask, if I did not, was: because of the integration process, is there a need for more resources to be applied to former AusAID staff than perhaps to ongoing departmental staff, or vice versa, or is there no significant difference? Are you with me?

Mr Varghese : Yes, I am. One of the things we have been doing is to provide training sessions so that former AusAID staff could get exposure to the foreign policy and trade agenda and what the department does in those areas, and for former non-AusAID DFAT staff to get exposure to development cooperation issues and all of the issues that are involved in that. So that is a net addition to what we would have had beforehand, and then, obviously, as an integrated department, we will need to have training that covers all the core areas of our operations, now including development cooperation, which we did not have before.

Senator FAULKNER: It did not strike me as being a nonsensical question to ask you—whether there was a greater need for such programs with one of the two elements being integrated, and therefore, if you like, proportionally more utilisation. That is the sense of what I was trying to understand.

Mr Varghese : Sure. I think that is probably a need across both groups, if I could put it that way.

Senator FAULKNER: So there is no pattern that you can identify in that regard. Fair enough. I was also going to ask about the issue of graduate trainee recruitment, which is the first dot point on the top of the second page. Is there, with the changes, still some sort of streaming in the graduate intakes or has that effectively gone by the wayside?

Mr Varghese : Post integration?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes. Well, post integration—yes, in the sense of this issue being identified in this document with some of the challenges—

Mr Varghese : We have not, of course, yet had a graduate recruitment intake since integration. You may recall that, for the 2014 intake, we decided not to proceed with AusAID's graduate recruitment.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, I do recall that.

Mr Varghese : We proceeded only with the DFAT one. From next year, we will run a graduate recruitment program which will be a single intake across foreign trade and aid issues, and then, separately, we do have a corporate graduate recruitment intake, which of course is much smaller, which covers corporate requirements.

Senator FAULKNER: I am aware of the decision in relation to the AusAID graduate intake, but I wondered, reading the dot point, whether this effectively meant that there might be some graduates—given it identifies incorporating foreign, trade and aid policy training and aid management and sector training I wondered if this effectively had overtaken the decision that some of the graduates would be streamed in those sorts of areas. In other words, has it gone from—no, I cannot be any clearer that what I have said, in the sense that the aid graduate intake was removed, but this dot point certainly seems to indicate that the graduate trainee recruitment and training program will cover off a range of aid and aid policy-related areas.

Mr Varghese : That is right, it will, because we are recruiting a graduate intake next year to work in a department that will have responsibility across foreign, trade and aid matters. Therefore, we need graduates who will be trained across those requirements. I am not sure I quite understand the question in terms of whether it has overtaken the decision. The reason we did not proceed with the AusAID 2014 graduate intake was that the institution had been abolished and we took the decision that we would not proceed with that graduate intake.

Senator FAULKNER: I realise the institution had been abolished, but while there are a lot of former AusAID employees who will no longer be employed at the end of the next financial year, some of the functions remain core business for the portfolio.

Mr Varghese : Sure. It does, and we brought into the portfolio a very large degree of expertise in some of those functions.

Senator FAULKNER: Given the graduate program for AusAID was not proceeded with—I understand the argument that is presented as to why that occurred—I was just trying to understand whether the implications of this particular element of the document indicated that, regardless of that decision, there would still be some in that graduate intake who would be working in those areas—the aid and aid-related areas. That had not been stated—sorry, it may have been stated, but it was not clear to me at the time that the decision not to proceed with the AusAID graduate program had occurred. It is not a major point; it will not bring down the government, Mr Varghese, but I was interested in understanding it for clarity's sake.

I noticed in the section on communications and consultation that you, as secretary, held all staff addresses in both Barton and Civic. Was that compulsory attendance, by the way? That is not too serious; it is all right.

Mr Varghese : It was very voluntary.

Senator FAULKNER: It did say here that on the intranet the transcripts of your words are available to staff members. That is as it should be. But I wondered if perhaps those addresses could be made available to the committee.

Mr Varghese : I have a monthly all-staff forum where I canvass a whole range of issues, and this refers to the fact that it would be a good thing if those monthly meetings were held not just in the Gareth Evans Theatre in Barton, but also in Civic. They are essentially my internal communications with my colleagues in the department, and, with respect, I think we have demonstrated that we want to be transparent to this committee—

Senator FAULKNER: And that is why, because you said—you so generously suggested that you were going to be transparent, I thought you would be very keen to provide them.

Mr Varghese : But my staff forums do not cover just integration, they cover everything that the department is engaged in and they cover what is on my plate and—

Senator FAULKNER: I am sure that would be even more interesting.

Mr Varghese : they cover policy issues and they cover management issues and frankly, Senator—

Senator FAULKNER: Excellent.

Mr Varghese : I think a secretary ought to be able to communicate with members of his or her staff without having transcripts of those communications made available to the estimates committee. But I will take your request on board and I will give it further thought.

Senator FAULKNER: I do not really understand that answer. I mean if it is a massive problem for you, I would not even press the question. But I think in the interests of transparency it would be a useful thing to do and I actually thought, in the fullness of time, it might save a lot of time at a committee like this. You have been forthcoming with a couple of other documents today, I thought you were getting into the mood of transparency. But obviously that is a bridge too far with your speeches. But if they are on the departmental intranet, I would not have thought—they are going to 4,000 people.

Mr Varghese : They are not classified documents.

Senator FAULKNER: I understand that.

Mr Varghese : But they are an internal communication.

Senator FAULKNER: Yes, sure.

Mr Varghese : I think organisations ought to be—

Senator FAULKNER: But these things you have tabled are internal communications.

Mr Varghese : Exactly. But this committee has been particularly interested in how the integration process is working and I am making available to this committee documents that go to that matter. You are now asking me to consider making available to this committee transcripts of meetings I have with staff that cover the waterfront on all sorts of things. I think it is taking the request to a level which goes well beyond your legitimate interest in how integration is tracking.

Senator FAULKNER: Look, it is not an illegitimate interest, I can assure you. You have presented a document that said that you held all staff addresses in Barton and Civic. You said transcripts are uploaded to both intranets. But if it is a sensitive issue for you, I am happy not even to progress the matter as a question on that—

Mr Varghese : Thank you, Senator.

Senator FAULKNER: but I do not really understand why you would be as sensitive as you are to this. I thought that it might be something that you would be grateful that senators and committee members have an interest in.

Senator Brandis: Senator Faulkner, you said you do not propose to progress it. Can we move on to the next topic, please?

Senator FAULKNER: We can, but I am just engaging Mr Varghese, who would be obviously delighted that I have not progressed it to a question on notice, and explaining to him that I was a little surprised at his response. I do not consider it vital to the work of the committee that those transcripts are made available, so, as a result, we can leave it at that. Nevertheless, I am a little perplexed that it would cause any problem.

Now, just in the section on posts. There is a broad issue here that I am interested in terms of heads of mission—this is how it seems to me, and you can correct me if I am wrong here—having new responsibilities in the aid area. That is my impression from reading this document and hearing the evidence that is being provided. Is that a fair statement?

Mr Varghese : Yes, I think it is, Senator. Heads of mission have always, obviously, had an overall oversight of all of the activities at their posts. But I think the difference now is that, with an integrated department, heads of mission will play a more direct role in managing the delivery of the aid program than they might have previously.

Senator FAULKNER: Does this mean that in some cases, or perhaps in many cases, there is a need for some additional specialist training if a head of mission, quite understandably, has had no experience or expertise or background at all in the aid area?

Is this an issue for you as department secretary?

Mr Varghese : I think, in terms of looking at what our training requirements are going to be post integration, that is one issue that we will need to address, because I think heads of mission going to countries where we have a substantial aid program will have a detailed grasp of not only the program but how aid is delivered. In some cases they will be exercising delegations for the expenditure of aid monies which they would not have exercised previously. All of that will require a measure of training, and we would want a measure of confidence that heads of mission are capable of doing the job that we now will want them to do.

Senator FAULKNER: Listening carefully to what you said, effectively there is a need in this area but at this stage in the integration process that really has not been addressed. Is that fair?

Mr Fisher : Can I add something here. The integration steering committee considered two meetings ago this very question. We put to the steering committee a set of propositions about broad training for staff in the new department. Obviously different groups have different needs, but part of it was about general training, things like work health and safety, fraud and a range of other and things within the department. In a new department, which sometimes has slightly different parameters compared with the old two agencies which sometimes operated slightly differently. We also had a large package of training assistance, if you like, for people who needed exactly what you are positing: to be able to make aid decisions, both in Canberra and at posts. There is a package that was agreed by the steering committee a couple of meetings ago that is being rolled out. That was identified, scoped—

Senator FAULKNER: Did you say been or being?

Mr Fisher : Being rolled out. There has been already some training along those lines and in fact in addition, given HoMs have significant responsibilities now, they have had some training at post—I have to check on the nature of that training—and of course they have senior aid colleagues there as well with them assisting them with those new responsibilities. It has been a pretty comprehensive approach to dealing with this new challenge.

Mr Wood : Following on from the secretary's comments about delegations, one of the impacts of integration has been quite a big change in delegations and delegations limits. That advice have been provided out to posts.

Senator FAULKNER: In relation to these new responsibilities of heads of mission, is it fair to say that, yes, the issue is clearly identified and effectively the process of addressing that issue has begun. Is that a fair summary?

Mr Varghese : That is correct. Both identified and being addressed.

Ms Rawson : Just to add to that, it is not only for HoMs; it is for all staff. A new aid programming guide is being finalised at the moment. It is a comprehensive document for all staff on the steps involved in management of the aid program and will be issued, I think, fairly soon. In the meantime, there has been a package of reference guides for staff, with some focus on heads of mission, that provides all the basic elements of that to posts and missions.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that; I appreciate that. I suppose the document integration progress report of April does identify in the section on posts that the issue of support for heads of mission involved in decision making on the aid program. I assume the more senior a departmental officer in a post, ending with the Head of Mission, the more responsibility is exercised by them.

Mr Varghese : That is correct.

Senator FAULKNER: Does this mean, Mr Varghese, it is not outlandish to suggest that over time some heads of mission might well be replaced by aid or development experts? Given the integration in the department, different heads of mission with a very different background might come through.

Mr Varghese : Absolutely, and I would not say necessarily over time. I could envisage a situation relatively soon where we would be posting people as heads of mission who came into the department with integration—in other words, people who came to us from the former AusAID. The whole point of this integration is to treat all of our officers as belonging to a single institution, so while inevitably in a transition period people will think about each other as ex-AusAIDers or DFATers, certainly the culture we want to engender is that it is a single integrated department and therefore all positions are open to everyone to apply for, including head of mission vacancies. We will accept expressions of interest for heads of mission positions from any appropriately qualified officers at the right level.

Senator FAULKNER: In relation to property and logistics which is the last section in the document, is the—for want of a better word—divide between London Circuit and the R. G. Casey building a permanent arrangement?

Mr Varghese : At the moment we are spread out over four buildings. We have three in Civic and one in Barton. Ideally, I would like us all to be co-located around Barton, but that is not going to be possible because our lease commitments in London Circuit are very long term and very difficult to get out of. We envisage that we will exit the other two Civic buildings over the next year or two and that we will be able to occupy space in the Walter Turnbull Building, which is just across the road from DFAT in Barton. Medium term, we will end up with three locations: two in Barton and one in Civic. At the moment, we have got three in Civic and one in Barton.

Mr McDonald : In relation to two of the divisions in Asia, maritime division and mainland division, there has been movement of staff between those two buildings—so some former DFAT staff moving into the Civic building and vice versa as part of the integration—and that has been a good thing.

Senator FAULKNER: I thought you did have a situation at least historically where some sections or branches of the department had actually been split between locations. Is that true?

Mr McDonald : In the former AusAID?

Senator FAULKNER: Yes. AusAID/DFAT—historically, that that had been the case.

Mr McDonald : As part of integration, some branches are not yet co-located in one geographic location and the primary reason for that has been around the IT systems of the two departments. To move them any earlier would have been very disruptive to the communication.

Senator FAULKNER: But the objective is for no branches to be split between different locations—is that fair to say?

Mr McDonald : That is fair to say.

Senator FAULKNER: Have you got a target date for that being achieved?

Mr McDonald : I will ask someone. There is a property plan—would be the way I would put it—but I am not sure.

Ms Rawson : I think it will occur over the coming year. It will happen as quickly as can be done. But, as you can imagine, it is a very complex exercise involving a lot of people and a lot of different ICT issues still and bringing many different groups together. So it will take time. The next big movement of staff that Deputy Secretary McDonald referred to, the two South-East Asia divisions having been established—and that is now working well with one in Civic and one in Barton—will be the integration of the Pacific division. Not just in a formal sense but in a physical sense, that will happen over the next couple of months in Barton. So there is progress. It involves working through a very complex plan with lots of different moving parts.

Senator FAULKNER: Thank you for that. In relation to this document, can you or one of your officials, Mr Varghese—it is an integration progress report and I appreciate it is a progress report and that it is dated April 2014—tell me whether any of the elements in this, be they dates, imperatives or the objectives outlined, have changed fundamentally? Or is it broadly on track and remains a fair statement of plans and objectives?

Mr Varghese : As a snapshot of the process, it remains pretty much the same. Obviously since April we have moved along the lines outlined here—further than this encapsulates.

Senator FAULKNER: Obviously progress has been made, but there is nothing here that stands out, as it appears on the paper, to be something that would give the wrong impression about the objective of the department in these areas?

Mr Varghese : No, it remains fine from that perspective.

Senator FAULKNER: I turn now to the other document, the Pulse survey results. Again, thank you for tabling that. I appreciate it. On page 3, under the broad area of 'staff suggestions for improvement to change management', I think it is fair to say that there seem to be some common themes—not all of them happy ones. There is obviously uncertainty, lack of explanation of the change, rumours rather than reliable information, lack of supportive and inclusive leadership, lack of teamwork and collaboration and so forth. Are you able to say whether these concerns were more prevalent and more strongly felt among former AusAID staff?

Mr Varghese : I think that is one thing that comes clearly through the survey—the levels of uncertainty or dissatisfaction are higher amongst former AusAID staff than they were amongst pre-integration DFAT staff. Within that, I think it is also the case that the least integrated parts have the higher dissatisfaction levels. So, in other words, I think you will find overall higher satisfaction levels in the geographic divisions, which are the most integrated bits of the integration process, than compared with those divisions that have moved across, essentially holus-bolus, into the DFAT structure.

Senator FAULKNER: And you are able to establish that from a more thorough analysis of the survey results.

Mr Varghese : Of the division by division results.

Senator FAULKNER: I see.

Mr McDonald : A number of those divisions are within my line area. Some of them had concern around uncertainty of their ongoing viability, if you like, which was relayed through consultation that I have had with those staff. Being able to provide assurance that, for example, that division is highly valued and will have an ongoing role within the organisation has helped the staff since this survey has come through.

Senator FAULKNER: If you look on page 3 of 7 of the supporting document attached to the secretary's statement, four points from the bottom, it says, 'Frustration about the adoption of DFAT systems, policies and practices by default over AusAID's.' It gives the impression of a concern, if you like, not so much for integration but very much domination. That is, I think, a fair reflection of what that frustration is. Is that something you have been trying to address, Mr Varghese?

Mr Varghese : I think there is a sentiment that is reflected in that particular diamond point. I made it very clear at the beginning of this process that the DFAT structure and systems were going to remain the spine of the integrated department. Some people thought that was okay, and some people thought that was not okay. I think you are seeing echoes of the latter in the survey.

Senator FAULKNER: If I take you to page 5 of 7, just moving through this quickly, and using your terminology of the diamond point, the second-last diamond point says that around half of staff agreed that they were confident that DFAT is able to identify staff with the necessary skills to meet its business objectives. I was surprised that only half of staff have that level of confidence. Some might, I think not unfairly, say, 'Well, these are the people within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who have got the most insight into the agency in which they work.' That does not seem to be very positive news at all, does it?

Mr Varghese : I see both that and the next diamond point—less than half agreed that they were confident that DFAT would be able to retain staff—as reflecting a concern that in an integrated department insufficient emphasis